Despite increasing demand, scientists poke holes in Ivermectin for Covid-19 treatments

AFRICA – Ivermectin, an over 30-year-old wonder drug that treats life- and sight-threatening parasitic infections, has been disqualified as a potential treatment for Covid-19, with scientists claiming it would even result in fatalities.

Ivermectin was first identified in the 1970s during a veterinary drug screening project at Merck Pharmaceuticals. Researchers focused on discovering chemicals that could potentially treat parasitic infections in animals.

Merck partnered with the Kitasato Institute, a medical research facility in Japan to develop a a less toxic form they named ivermectin. It was approved in 1981 for commercial use in veterinary medicine for parasitic infections in livestock and domestic pets.

Early experiments by William Campbell and his team from Merck discovered that the drug also worked against a human parasite that causes an infection called river blindness.

Ivermectin underwent trials to treat river blindness in 1982 and was approved in 1987. It has since been distributed free of charge through the Mectizan Donation Program to dozens of countries.

Thanks to ivermectin, river blindness has been essentially eliminated in 11 Latin American countries, preventing approximately 600,000 cases of blindness.

Two decades of extensive work to discover, develop and distribute ivermectin helped to significantly reduce human suffering from river blindness.

It’s these efforts that were recognized by the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded to both William Campbell and Satoshi Omura for their leadership on this groundbreaking research.

Infectious disease researchers frequently attempt to repurpose antimicrobials and other medications to treat infections. Drug repurposing is attractive because the approval process can happen more quickly and at a lower cost since nearly all of the basic research has already been completed.

At the start of the pandemic, scientists and doctors tried to find inexpensive medications to repurpose for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were two of those drugs. They were chosen because of possible antiviral effects documented in laboratory studies and limited anecdotal case reports from the first COVID-19 outbreaks in China.

However, large clinical studies of these drugs to treat COVID-19 did not translate to any meaningful benefits. This was partly due to the serious toxic effects patients experienced before the drugs reached a high enough dose to inhibit or kill the virus.

Unfortunately, lessons from these failed attempts have not been applied to ivermectin. The false hope around using ivermectin to treat COVID-19 originated from an April 2020 laboratory study in Australia.

Earlier this year, a bunch of scientists found serious flaws in the use of the drug for prevention and treatment of Covid-19. World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, unanimously recommend against the use of ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19 unless in the context of a clinical trial.

Ivermectin, when used correctly, has prevented millions of potentially fatal and debilitating infectious diseases. It’s meant to be prescribed only to treat infections caused by parasites.

It’s not meant to be prescribed by parasites looking to extract money from desperate people during a pandemic. It’s my sincere hope that this unfortunate and tragic chapter in the otherwise incredible story of a lifesaving medication will come to a quick end,” Jeffrey R. Aeschlimann is associate professor of pharmacy, University of Connecticut, said.

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