NIH to test potential of ‘repurposed drugs’ in COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms

The National Institutes of Health announced Monday it will fund a large clinical trial to see if existing prescription and over-the-counter medications could help treat people with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

The NIH says they hope to allow adults who are not sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19 to be able to treat themselves with medications that are already commonly available to the public. 

The NIH said they’re looking at seven drugs to see if they can help alleviate symptoms, but didn’t specify which ones. The drugs have already been approved by the FDA for other conditions, and the NIH said testing them now in COVID-19 patients is a process known as "drug repurposing."

Enrollment in the massive trial will open in a few weeks to up to 13,500 participants who are at least 30-years-old and have tested positive for COVID-19. Patients in the trial must have experienced two or more mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 for no more than seven days, the NIH says. 

Participants will then get one of the drugs in the mail or a placebo. The drugs will be taken orally or by inhaler. 

The trial is part of the NIH’s Accelerating COVID‑19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) public-private partnership created to develop strategies to create treatments and vaccines for various illnesses.


This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (NIAID-RML)

With various other trials underway to develop treatments for an array of other illnesses, this specific trial to develop efficient treatments for COVID-19 is referred to as the ACTIV-6 trial. 

"While we’re doing a good job with treating hospitalized patients with severe disease, we don’t currently have an approved medication that can be self-administered to ease symptoms of people suffering from mild disease at home, and reduce the chance of their needing hospitalization," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "ACTIV-6 will evaluate whether certain drugs showing promise in small trials can pass the rigor of a larger trial."

Several drugs are already recommended to treat people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the NIH. These include the antiviral drug remdesivir.

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved remdesivir, an antiviral medication, developed by Gilead Sciences, as a treatment for COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization.

The drug was the first fully approved treatment in the U.S. for COVID-19. 

RELATED: Pfizer begins phase 1 study of oral COVID-19 treatment drug

In March, Pfizer began studying an oral antiviral drug with the hopes of treating COVID-19. The company said the drug in the trial, which is currently being conducted in the U.S., has already shown promising potential in treating people infected with the novel coronavirus as well as other coronaviruses. 

On March 7, FOX News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel revealed on "FOX & Friends Weekend" that another new possible medication to treat coronavirus-positive patients could be enough to turn the pandemic on its head. First-stage testing of the experimental COVID-19 pill called Molnupiravir, by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, showed promising signs of effectiveness in reducing the virus in patients.

RELATED: COVID-19 pill effective in preliminary testing may be 'holy grail' of pandemic, doctor says

The drug would function as an at-home, five-day treatment, similar to Tamiflu, to stop the virus from reproducing before causing major damage. Siegel said the therapeutic could come to market in as little as four to five months.

The NIH also recommends other treatments for COVID-19 on their website.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. FOX News contributed.