Drug Combinations May Be Our Best Hope For Treating Covid-19

Jesse Smith, MD
6 min readAug 19, 2020

Drug combinations may be what helps us bridge the gap to an effective vaccine.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Vaccine development is slow. With questions surrounding the durability of immunity and availability of the vaccine, doctors on the front lines of health care are relying on available drug therapies to treat Covid-19. Most Covid-19 patients are often given a cocktail of available therapies, given that no one drug has been shown to be broadly effective against the virus. Several trials are ongoing looking at the effectiveness of drug combinations in the treatment of Covid-19. This may signal that drug combinations may be what carries us through the gap between now and an effective vaccine.

Viruses are difficult to treat. If you compare them to bacteria, most antibiotics function by blocking some biologic or metabolic process, whether it be DNA replication, protein synthesis or cell wall development. Those drugs effectively halt the growth and replication of the bacteria, two characteristics of living organisms. Viruses, on the other hand, do not have any of these mechanisms because viruses are not technically alive. This means that they have fewer potential drug targets. Still, there are dozens of antiviral medications on the market that work to inhibit these pathogens, many of which are used in combination with each other.

Drug Combinations Are Common in Viral Diseases

It is not uncommon to see viruses, particularly those for which there is not an effective vaccine, being treated with more than one drug. HIV is one example where patients are often on a cocktail of drugs, each targeted at one of the ways that HIV attacks the body. Again, this shows that there is neither a single effective drug therapy for HIV, nor an effective vaccine against HIV. It also highlights the complexity of HIV. The many steps involved in an HIV infection offer many targets for drug therapies.

Outside of social distancing, mask wearing and other public health measures, effective drug combinations may be the only weapon we have in the fight against this virus.

Jesse Smith, MD

Physician and molecular biologist. I write about science, medicine, vaccines and dogs…yes dogs.