The Philippines will conduct clinical trials to assess whether the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin can be used to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said on Monday.
At President Rodrigo Duterte's weekly talk to the people, Dela Peña said Dr. Aileen Wang would lead the clinical trials at the Philippine General Hospital quarantine center.
The trial will pit ivermectin with other standards of care, he added.
Dela Peña said that funds had been allocated for the clinical trials.
"Hopefully, pag natapos ang trial na yan magkaroon ng mas reliable estimates ng ivermectin bilang isang antiviral agent, na makare-reduce ng virus shedding sa mga mild and moderate patients," he said.
[Hopefully, after the trials have been completed, we'll a reliable estimate on ivermectin's use as an antiviral agent that can reduce virus shedding in mild and moderate COVID-19 patients.]
Doctors have debated the merits of ivermectin.
In a fireside chat organized by the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering, Dr. Tess Lawrie of The Evidence-Based Medicine Consultancy Ltd. said ivermectin as shown by "clinical evidence worldwide."
"I think what you have to remember is we are in a pandemic, there are people dying. We don’t need to know about every single thing about this medicine," she said, noting that with more use comes more information.
"We can see it reduces inflammatory markers and this is one of its great benefits in the late stage of disease. So i just think just look at the science. It’s very safe. Let’s just start using it at least for treatment."
Citing data from VigiAccess, an international database of adverse events, Lawrie noted that only 16 deaths have been reported involving ivermectin, compared to much higher totals for remdesivir, which is used to treat COVID-19 symptoms, as well as COVID-19 vaccines.
Lawrie said there is a "double standard" for why ivermectin is being considered unsafe as a COVID-19 treatment. "It doesn't make any sense at all."
Reacting to Lawrie's presentation, Dr. Jacinto Blas Mantaring III, who chairs the Department of Clinical Epidemiology of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, said there was a "chance that ivermectin causes harm as much as there's a chance that it causes benefit."
Infectious diseases expert Dr. Benjamin Co, for his part, questioned the lack of Phase 2 studies on the appropriate dose of ivermectin, either to be given for patients who are being treated for COVID-19 or its use as prophylaxis.
In its official statement, ivermectin maker Merck said there was “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect [from ivermectin] against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies."
Merck also said there was "no meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19 and a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies."
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted applications from two hospitals for the compassionate use of ivermectin.
However, it warned that the medicine was still not meant for distribution as part of a treatment protocol for COVID-19.
The DOST chief also reported that there were at least three groups in the country that were able to develop locally-made ventilators.
The three groups were Neuronmech, Don Bosco Technical College, and the Technological Institute of the Philippines.
Dela Peña said they would still need to test the local ventilators in hospitals.
"Nakabuo na po ng local ventilator. Nakapasa na rin sa 3rd party certifications. Kaya po ang susunod na hakbang ay subukan na sa ospital at iyon po ay kailangan magproduce ng marami para masubukan," he said.
[The local ventilators have been built and they passed their third-party certification. The next step would be to test them in hospitals, so we'll need to produce more of them for testing.] — DVM, GMA News