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Tech entrepreneur seeks Covid-19 treatment using existing drugs

A COVID-19 vaccine is months away and existing drugs could be a better solution to fighting to virus. Steve Kirsch - COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund Founder discusses his organization's work with outpatient trials.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: You're watching "On the Move" on Yahoo Finance. I'm Julie Hyman.

We were talking earlier about the search for a vaccine and that it may not be the sort of panacea that it is being portrayed in some quarters. That's why our next guest says it's also important to look for treatments for coronavirus, not just prevention.

Steve Kirsch is the founder of the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund. He's joining us from San Francisco. He's also a tech entrepreneur and philanthropist. So, Steve, how did you sort of come to this, right? Because one of the interesting threads that we've followed throughout this pandemic is that sort of people from all different quarters are pitching in to try to help in various ways. How did you come upon this particular way of trying to address this?

STEVE KIRSCH: Well, I'm a tech entrepreneur. So I just looked for a way that I could contribute to the effort to finding a treatment. And I talked to infectious-disease experts around the country, and what I learned was that there is this neglected piece, which is looking for drugs that are just sitting off on the shelf and trying those drugs against the virus and seeing if they can make an effect because if it does work, then it's a very small amount of money and a very small amount of time to find something that we can use immediately.

And so I just dove right into that, created a website. We've had 40 grant proposals. I assembled a team of 11 scientists, top scientists from all over the country to evaluate the grant proposals. We granted nine grant proposals. We've got eight drugs that we're currently involved in testing. And if any one of those drugs works, it's something that we could use immediately, or nearly immediately, to treat the virus, and treating it early is super important.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Steve, we heard from the likes of Bill Gates who said, look, vaccine or not, the death rate from this is going to decline because of the kinds of things you're talking about, medications that will help manage and treat the virus. So I'm curious, can you share with us-- I mean, we hear the big ones. Remdesivir was one of the early ones that got repurposed. Are there-- can you share the names of what might be coming down the pipeline that could be one of those types of drugs?

STEVE KIRSCH: Sure. There's a drug called camostat that you don't hear about in the news. But if you talk to the-- we have one of the world's top coronavirus experts in the world on our scientific advisory board. And I asked her-- I said, hey, if you were infected with COVID, which drug would you take, you know, if you could take any drug at all? And she said she would take camostat.

Now, camostat is a trial that we just started in the US. We-- our organization actually funded it in Denmark because it was able to get started earlier in Denmark, but it just got started in the US, and they're starting to enroll patients.

But this is like for a number one coronavirus expert-- and there are only about 20 in the world. For her to say camostat-- and I've heard multiple experts say camostat should be a drug, but we're not-- we're not testing it. And so we are just starting to open these trials. You know, it's kind of we are doing very poorly on the execution on this looking at outpatient drugs because that's the number-one drug.

The other drugs are things like interferon-lambda. That's very promising. Favipiravir being tested at Stanford. There's GS-441524 which is being tested at MD Anderson, which is a precursor drug for remdesivir. So it should have better effect than remdesivir. It's much easier to produce. It's faster to produce, and it's cheaper, and it's much safer too.

So those are some of them. There's niclosamide being studied at Purdue. So those are some of the drugs that we're investigating.

INES FERRE: Steve, Ines here. I read in your bio that you actually had gone through a rare blood cancer and that you were able to get doctors to do an experimental treatment, so I thought that that was very impressive. But talk to us about where you are with these trials and when you can expect to see results.

STEVE KIRSCH: So the trial that's the furthest along that we've been involved in is the interferon lambda trial, and the site that's furthest along is Stanford. They have enrolled-- they're about halfway through their trial. They had a review by the DSMB, which is their Data Science Monitoring Board. And they didn't have a definite conclusion as to this is like super effective or it's not effective at all. They just said we'll continue the trial.

So we don't know yet. It's probably going to be three or four weeks before we know on interferon lambda. So that's one of the drug.

Camostat very early on at Yale. Favipiravir the pure of year at Stanford still very early on. And then the others are less down-- you know, it's going to take longer for the other ones. But some of these can progress-- some of these can progress pretty fast like the GS-441524, which is essentially remdesivir lite. If that works out, that could be repurposed very quickly.

MELODY HAHM: Steve, as I understand it, you helped fund two hydroxychloroquine trials. Kind of give us your update there as we know that there-- it's not the correct treatment for COVID-19.

STEVE KIRSCH: Yeah, I mean, we funded just one out of the University of Minnesota, and it was a $125,000 investment. And I know other people have put, like, $40 million into hydroxychloroquine. Our scientific advisory board said this drug doesn't have much potential at all. There's no-- there's scientific evidence that shows it won't work.

So we said, look, let's just spend $125,000. Let's do the definitive study on that. And shortly after that study was published, the FDA revoked the EUA on hydroxychloroquine.

So we did it more of it's only $100,000. Let's spend this so that people aren't pouring millions and millions of dollars into a drug that's not going to be effective. We want it focused on the drugs like camostat that actually have a really good chance or GS-441524, which nobody talks about at all, which may end up being like the killer drug here because what we know is remdesivir, if it's given early to monkeys, that the monkeys basically don't have any ill effects from the disease.

You know, so you remdesivir, you give it very late, you have a big problem. You give it much earlier in the course of the disease, it's a dramatic difference. People basically don't get sick. It prevents the progression.

And so this drug is basically the not-talked-about version of remdesivir that all of our tests so far that have been conducted in MD Anderson show that this drug may be the killer drug, and it's something nobody is talking about.

JULIE HYMAN: Here's hoping. Steve Kirsch, thank you so much. You are the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund founder. Appreciate it.