Rival drugmakers Takeda Pharmaceuticals Inc, AbbVie Inc and Amgen Inc said on Monday that they have commenced treatment of patients in a trial to ascertain whether a drug from each of the company can be repurposed and employed against COVID-19.

Amgen's research and development chief, David Reese, told Reuters that the novel coronavirus pandemic is an "all hands on deck moment". He added, "We wanted a trial to be able to quickly sift through multiple agents and prioritize."

Testing Drugs for Repurposing

The study is a collaboration among pharmaceutical industry members of the recently-formed COVID Research & Development Alliance, Quantum Leap Healthcare Collaborative, a partnership of medical researchers and investors, and the Food and Drug Administration.

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The first segment will test whether Amgen's psoriasis drug Otezla, Takeda's anti-inflammatory Firazyr and AbbVie's cenicriviroc, which has been tried in patients with HIV, will help with the overactive, and potentially damaging, immune response that sometimes happens in patients with severe COVID-19.

The study's "adaptive platform" means several treatment candidates can be tested at the same time, with the most promising moving forward and the least promising dropping out, Quantum Leap co-founder Dr. Laura Esserman told Reuters. "We could have some results in as early as six weeks," she said, adding that additional drugs will soon be added to the roster.

Drugs Being Dosed In Combination With Remdesivir

Company officials said Otezla may be able to suppress inflammation from an overactive immune response; Firazyr may help limit fluid in the lungs; and cenicriviroc, which blocks the activity of certain immune system cells, could reduce the severity of acute respiratory distress caused by the virus.

The drugs are being dosed in combination with Gilead Sciences Inc's antiviral drug Remdesivir and generic steroid dexamethasone, both of which have been shown in rigorous trials to help COVID-19 patients and are now considered to be standard care, Dr. Esserman said. A comparison group of patients will be given Remdesivir and dexamethasone alone.

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Representational Picture Vera Kratochvil/publicdomainpictures.net

Hospitals have tried other anti-inflammatory drugs in COVID-19 patients, including Regeneron's Kevzara and Roche Holding's Actemra, but trials of both arthritis drugs failed to show effectiveness. Roche is continuing to test Actemra in combination with Remdesivir.

Large Number of Trials With Best Intentions

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' ongoing adaptive COVID-19 trial is studying Remdesivir in combination with Olumiant, an arthritis drug sold by Eli Lilly & Co. Those results are expected next month.

Since the outbreak began seven months ago, so far more than 675,000 people have lost their lives worldwide, and hundreds of clinical trials have been launched around the world to test whether existing drugs or experimental compounds could be effective treatments.

"There are a huge number of trials that for all the best intentions have been stood up around the world, but many are smaller - what we would call underpowered - and will not provide definitive answers," Amgen's Reese said.

(With inputs from agencies)