Clinical trials on coronavirus drugs may take only months, researcher says

An infectious disease specialist leading three clinical trials into treatments for coronavirus said he expects the work to go quickly.

"If everything goes according to plan, I am talking months, not years," for completion of the trials, Dr. Timothy Schacker, vice dean for research at the University of Minnesota's medical school, told NBC News.

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Clinical trials often can take years, Schacker said, but these may take less time in part because the process of finding patients to participate is happening quickly.

A high amount of interest in coronavirus treatment research is helping in recruiting participants, Schacker said. In addition, researchers are using the internet and social media to get the word out.

His teams' trials are trying to answer three questions, he said: Can you prevent a person from getting infected? Once a person has the coronavirus, can you prevent them from getting more sick? And, lastly, once a person is sick, is there a treatment to fight the infection?

To address the first question, the researchers are looking for people exposed to someone known to be infected and giving them hydroxychloroquine.

"We are giving the drug to see if we can prevent them from getting infected," he said.

Researchers at the school hope to enroll as many as 1,500 people who have had some contact with COVID-19 patients but who are not infected.

The trial will be randomized, meaning that some subjects will be given placebos, Schacker said.

Two other studies are also in the works. One will look at whether the blood-pressure drug Losartan "can slow progression in early patients who are not very sick," Schacker said.

A third clinical trial will look at the impact of remdesivir, a drug that was widely promoted for treating Ebola but which failed to show any significant benefit. It has shown some promise against COVID-19 in laboratory settings.

"It was put into this large clinical trial, so we have up and running as well," he said.