Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of Truvada, is set to test components of the HIV prevention drug against COVID-19 as the pandemic continues to rage across the globe — but has low expectations for the results, a company spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Friday.
Sonia Choi, vice president for public affairs at Gilead Sciences, said via email the company plans to test components of the drug against coronaviruses in response to a Washington Blade inquiry on the use of Truvada against COVID-19.
At the same time, Choi said Gilead Sciences doesn't anticipate favorable results because components of Truvada were shown to be ineffective against other diseases.
"We are planning to assess the in vitro antiviral activity of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and emtricitabine (FTC), the components of Truvada, against coronaviruses," Choi said. "However, based on in vitro testing against other RNA viruses including Ebola virus, hepatitis C virus, respiratory syncytial virus and bovine viral diarrhea virus, we do not expect to observe antiviral activity of TDF or FTC against coronaviruses."
The Blade placed a follow-up email request with Gilead Sciences seeking information on the nature and timeline for the assessment as well as why it will be conducted on an in vitro basis, which means without human or animal test subjects, as opposed to an in vivo basis.
Truvada has become widely used for HIV prevention and become generic under the Trump administration. If the expectation it won't have an impact on COVID-19 is proven wrong, the drug would be an effective and easily distributed tool to fight the disease.
The components of Truvada would one be one of numerous drugs medical researchers are testing against COVID-19. Other drugs are Remdesivir, an antiviral drug designed to treat Ebola and MERS, and Kaletra, a medication used to treat HIV. (A recent study, however, concluded Kaletra wasn't effective against COVID-19.)
According to an article in Drug Target Review, researchers say Remdesivir has become the most promising COVID-19 drug. On Monday, in the wake of intense demand of the drug for "compassionate use," Gilead announced it would no longer accept requests for the drug against COVID-19 — with the exception of pregnant women and youth under age 18 with confirmed infection and severe manifestations of the disease.
Dr. David Hardy, adjunct professor of medicine for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said Truvada is worth the attention in clinical trials if Remdesivir is shown to work, as reported by the Blade earlier this week.
"If Remdesivir works, because it falls into the same class of medication as Truvada, then Truvada may be able to be tried as well," Hardy said.
Despite hope Truvada may be effective against the coronavirus, Hardy warned patients taking the drug either for HIV prevention or treatment may still be susceptible to COVID-19 and able to transmit it.
"People have misinterpreted when they have read this that HIV drugs work against the coronavirus that this means that they are somehow protected against the coronavirus by virtue of taking HIV drugs, and that is not something that anyone should assume at this point in time," Hardy said. "We have no idea whether they work against the virus in any great numbers of people who have been taking the medications."
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.