Researchers set to begin clinical trials on potential coronavirus treatment

19 March 2020

Australian researchers are set to begin clinical trials of a potential treatment for COVID-19 – using two existing drugs.

University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research Director and Consultant Infectious Diseases Physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) Professor David Paterson said the drugs proved highly effective when first used against the virus in test tubes.  

A statement from Professor David Paterson

The drugs to be tested in clinical trials are not approved for use for COVID-19, and they should not be taken unless prescribed by a doctor as they may cause serious side effects. I do not support the stockpiling of these drugs.

My comments that the drugs could be a potential treatment or cure for COVID-19 were based on previous research on coronaviruses such as SARS and preliminary data from China and Singapore on COVID-19. To formally establish the efficacy and safety of these drugs large clinical trials are needed. I have never suggested these drugs be used before a trial establishes their efficacy.  Unfortunately, my comments have on some occasions been used out of context.

The clinical trials we are seeking to do in the face of the global pandemic will be the work of researchers at dozens of hospitals around Australia.

The RBWH Foundation established a public fundraising appeal to support research into the coronavirus. UQ has not been directly involved in the RBWHF appeal.

“We’re now ready to begin patient trials with the drugs, one of which is an HIV medication and the other an anti-malaria drug,” Professor Paterson said.

“Prior to the clinical trials going ahead, the medications were given to some of the first patients in Australia infected with COVID-19, and all have completely recovered without any trace of the virus left in their system.

“However, we know that most people with COVID-19 recover completely, thanks to their immune system, so random anecdotal experiences of some people need to be replaced by rigorous clinical trials.”

Professor Paterson said the researchers are on the verge of starting a large clinical trial involving 60 hospitals across Australia to determine the best way to use the drugs.

“This would involve comparing one drug versus the other, versus the combination of the two drugs,” he said.

"We are almost ready to go and can begin very quickly enrolling patients in our trial.

“Realistically we could be able to enrol patients very, very soon.

“This will enable us to test the first wave of Australian patients and gain real-world experience with this treatment, especially since we expect ongoing infections to continue for many months.

“If we can obtain the best possible information now, then we can quickly treat subsequent patients down the track."

Professor Paterson said the drugs to be used in the clinical trials can be administered orally as tablets.

“Our aim is to treat patients ‘as soon as they're admitted’ to hospital in controlled settings.

"We want to give every Australian in need the absolute best treatment we can.”

Professor Paterson has praised the RBWH Foundation and the launch of its Coronavirus Action Fund for its efforts in helping to raise funds to begin the clinical trials.   

Please note: Only people who’ve been diagnosed as COVID-19 positive and been admitted to a hospital where the clinical trial will take place can participate.

Media: Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 3365 5118,
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