Bill Gates said three coronavirus treatments are in testing now and that they could “cut the death rate dramatically.” He expects the treatments to become available in the coming months—long before the vaccine will be ready for distribution.
In an interview with Business Insider, Bill Gates said antiviral medications, steroids and monoclonal antibodies are all being tested as coronavirus treatments. For now, he is more excited about treatments for the coronavirus than he is about a vaccine.
Bill Gates also said it's a lot easier to test coronavirus treatments than it is to test a vaccine. He believes three different types of treatments could become available to COVID-19 patients within a "few months."
Although having effective treatments doesn't mean the pandemic is over, it is certainly good news against a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He said having treatments "doesn't let you go to sporting events or hang out in the bars" because herd immunity acquired through vaccination is needed to do that.
If the three coronavirus treatments Bill Gates talked about are found to be effective at enabling people to recover more quickly and better from COVID-19, it could be a game changer for the death rate. In the U.S., over 150,000 people have died from the virus, and several estimates indicate that about 40% of those who died are linked to nursing homes.
Antivirals work against viruses by keeping them from reproducing, making the illness less severe and shorter-lasting. Gilead Sciences, which makes remdesivir, said the antiviral drug may reduce the risk of death in hospitalized patients by 62% compared to standard care.
The company added in a press release that additional research is being conducted with the drug using more patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Gates believes it's possible that remdesivir could be reformulated so that it's easier to give. Currently it has to be given intravenously. In other interviews, he has mentioned antiviral medications that can be given orally, which are being studied.
Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system, which curbs the body's reaction to COVID-19 and prevents organ failure. Bill Gates is especially excited about using dexamethasone as a coronavirus treatment.
Early studies have indicated that the medication could reduce the risk of death in COVID-19 patients who are extremely ill. Dexamethasone is not recommended for those whose infections are mild because it could keep the immune system from helping them fight off the virus.
Monoclonal antibodies are a manufactured treatment for COVID-19. They are cloned from the protective antibodies developed by people who have had the virus. Gates said they should have data on three or four of these treatments by the end of the year.
He believes that by combining monoclonal antibodies with antiviral medications, they could "cut the death rate quite dramatically, which would be a very big deal."
Work continues on a vaccine
In the wide-ranging interview with Business Insider, Gates also discussed many other topics, including work on a vaccine for COVID-19. He said again that the only thing the U.S. has gotten right in the fight against the coronavirus is its push for vaccine research and funding.
Over 160 vaccine candidates are being worked on around the world, but two of the four fastest human trials on vaccines are based in the U.S. Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech are working on their candidates, testing them in humans right now.
He said it's a good thing there are so many vaccine candidates in the works. He said if there were only one being worked on, he would say that "the likelihood of that really driving things back to normal is not super high."
Gates also said that the first vaccine to be approved may only be modestly effective. In fact, he said the first vaccine won't be "like a lot of vaccines," which block 100% of transmissions and keep the recipient from getting the virus.
However, he does expect a very effective vaccine to come out at some point because one should be included in the 160 vaccine candidates that are in development right now.