The Philippine government has decided to conduct clinical trials on the controversial anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, even after one agency had said there was no need due to existing clinical trials abroad.
Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña announced this on Monday, April 19, during a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in the Malacañang Golf Clubhouse.
“Hopefully po, ‘pag natapos ‘yung trial na ‘yan, mas magkaroon tayo ng mas reliable estimates ng epekto ng ivermectin bilang isang anti-viral agent na makakapag-reduce ng virus shedding sa mga mild at moderate patients,” he said.
(Hopefully, after this trial, we will have more reliable estimates on the effect of ivermectin as an anti-viral agent in reducing the virus shedding in mild and moderate patients.)
As recently as last Monday, April 12, Dela Peña had said there was no need for the Philippines to hold clinical trials.
Then on Thursday, April 15, ivermectin was discussed in Duterte’s meeting with pandemic task force officials. The drug had been mentioned in previous meetings before then, because of the intense public debate about it.
“Noong Huwebes, nagkaroon po tayo ng meeting ay nabanggit niyo na ito. Noong Biyernes, nag usap na kami ni [Health Secretary Francisco Duque III] at pag-iisipan namin. Noong Sabado po, nagkaroon na kami ng kasunduan na hahanap na ng eksperto na magsasagawa ng clinical trial,” said Dela Peña.
(On Thursday, we had a meeting where you mentioned it. On Friday, Secretary Duque and I talked about it. Last Saturday, we reached an agreement to look for an expert to conduct the clinical trial.)
The government’s decision comes after intense lobbying, including by some lawmakers in the House of Representatives, in support of ivermectin and more local studies on its potential as a COVID-19 treatment.
Dela Peña also announced that a doctor from the University of Manila-Philippine General Hospital (PGH) has been chosen to lead the clinical trials. Ivermectin would then be used in quarantine facilities near PGH as part of the trials.
“The plan is for quarantine centers near PGH to conduct this. The DOH has also allocated funds for those clinical trials,” said Dela Peña in Filipino.
Clinical trials to take months
The science department chief also stressed that the ivermectin clinical trials would likely take a minimum of six months to complete. This process could go faster if a significant number of people volunteer to participate in the clinical trials.
The clinical trials will compare how ivermectin reduces symptoms or length of hospital stay among trial participants compared to other treatments being used.
There is an ongoing public debate over the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19, with some doctors recommending it, patients sharing how it had been beneficial to them, and other medical experts warning against its unproven use against the coronavirus disease.
In the Philippines, the ivermectin allowed – and freely sold online – is the one for animals, used to treat heartworm disease. For humans, the ivermectin available in the country is “in topical formulations under prescription use only,” the Food and Drug Administration had said.
As many Filipinos and some doctors have sung praises about ivermectin, the Department of Health and World Health Organization have appealed for people to wait for results of clinical trials, and government approval, before taking the drug to treat or prevent COVID-19.
Two local manufacturers in the country are applying for certificate of product registration of ivermectin. One undisclosed hospital was able to secure a limited use permit for ivermectin. – Rappler.com