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Home / Science / Health /  Doctors consider anti-cancer drugs as a stopgap weapon in covid battle

In the absence of a safe and effective medicine for covid-19, drugs used to treat cancer are being considered. Globally, anti-cancer drugs such as cervarix and gardasil, the hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine, the bacillus calmette-guérin (BCG) vaccine, and sipuleucel-T are being used in the management of covid-19.

Indian government doctors and scientists, too, are considering cancer immunotherapeutic agents to treat covid-19, while researchers continue to work on a drug or vaccine.

“As the whole process to approve a drug that is safe and effective is time-consuming, several drugs that have been used in cancer therapy are being considered for the treatment of covid-19," said Dr Abhishek Shankar, assistant professor, department of radiation oncology, Lady Hardinge Medical College, Delhi.

“We have considered the cancer immunotherapeutic agents that are potentially suitable drugs to treat covid-19 to accelerate the process. This pandemic has generated an endless demand for vaccines all over the world," said Shankar, whose paper has been published in the latest issue of Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Care.

In a global emergency, such as the covid-19 pandemic, investigations progress rapidly and phase-3 trials for vaccine candidates and new medications have already started, said Shankar.

“The cytokine release syndrome (CRS) is an overwhelming and potentially life-threatening inflammatory response often seen in cancer patients. CRS-like symptoms are also found in covid-19 patients. Tocilizumab is the drug of choice to treat CRS. This drug is under phase-3 trials to treat covid-19," said Shankar.

Cancer immunotherapy is now rapidly growing because its mechanism is more target specific than chemotherapy or radiation. Moreover, immunotherapy has less side-effects such as damage of healthy cells. Now, scientists are trying to find out whether anti-cancer immunotherapy could protect against covid-19. Besides, randomized clinical trials using cancer vaccines are also being run to boost treatment strategies against covid-19 in emergencies.

Based on the results of immunotherapy using annual flu vaccines, researchers said the medicines could prompt the immune system to act aggressively against covid-19.

The paper said that researchers have identified the protein sequence for covid-19 prevention.

Research and clinical trials are also on to optimize the vaccine to maximize immune response and limit disease exacerbation, it said.

Cancer immunotherapy drugs under clinical trials worldwide include Infliximab, Pamrevlumab, Losartan, Tofacitinib, Famotidine, Leflunomide, Hydroxychloroquine and Enoxaparin, the paper highlighted.

It is also significant that Lopinavir-Ritonavir, an established drug for different cancer treatments, was widely used in laboratory research into the treatment of SARS-Cov-2.

However, according to a study of 199 patients, the drug did not have any significant effect on the clinical improvement or reduce mortality in covid-19 patients.

Against this backdrop, on 4 July, the World Health Organization recommended discontinuation of the use of Lopinavir-Ritonavir after analyzing the interim results of the solidarity trial.

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