At least 150 Filipinos take part in WHO's 'solidarity trial' as recruitment continues

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 20) – At least 150 Filipino patients are taking part in the World Health Organization's (WHO) solidarity trial, joining the global effort to find a cure for the deadly coronavirus disease.

Dr. Marissa Alejandria, a Philippine representative for the international clinical trials, told CNN Philippines that recruitment continues now that the trials will take place in various hospitals all over the Philippines.

“We are just on the fourth week of recruitment so wala pa tayong 500 na naaabot, nasa 150 palang ang kasali sa trial,” Alejandria said. “Hindi kasi lahat sumasali, hindi rin lahat nagku-qualify kasi kung may contraindication, hindi sila sinasali sa trial.”

[Translation: We are only in the fourth week of recruitment so we have not reached 500 yet, we have about 150 involved in the trial because not everyone who qualifies can participate, some have contraindications so they are excluded from the trial.]

The Department of Health announced on April 22 that the participation of the Philippines in the solidarity trial was approved by DOH's Single Joint Research Ethics Board. The board reviews proposed studies to make sure they adhere to accepted ethical standards involving humans, and the approval gives the green light for testing to be conducted in human volunteers.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier said the study will initially involve at least 500 COVID-19 patients in 20 hospitals, adding that the sample size could expand. Doctors will enroll patients for the study, she said.

Based on clinical trial protocols, patients included in the study must be at least 18 years old, be probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases, and give their informed consent.

Alejandria said there are five different drugs or combinations being used in the clinical trials, among them remdesivir, lopinavir-ritonavir, lopinavir-ritonavir plus interferon beta and chloroquine, while convalescent plasma therapy is being studied in a separate effort.

When asked how the current patients are doing, Alejandria said it is too early to say, noting that the study is expected to last at least a year.

“Meron nang nag-recover, meron din namang namatay, so we cannot give any conclusion at this time,” Alejandria said. "Merong independent committee that looks at the results, kung may makita na silang, 'ito, mukhang effective na,' then pwedeng i-announce na 'yon."

[Translation: Some have recovered, some have also died, so we cannot give any conclusion at this time. There is an independent committee that looks at the results, if they see something, if it seems to be effective, then they can announce it.]

Meanwhile, when asked how effective hydroxychloroquine is in treating COVID-19 patients, Alejandria said there is no evidence that supports it's effectivity.

"These are all from clinical trials, and they have conflicting reports," she said. "There are also reports of side effects kaya kailangan talaga natin ng [that's why we need] clinical trials."

U.S. President Donald Trump revealed on Monday that he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug he's long touted as a potential coronavirus cure even as medical experts and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration question its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects.