Palmer donates $1m to virus ‘cure’ trial
Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer has donated $1 million to an Australian clinical trial of drugs which researchers say can "cure" coronavirus.
Mr Palmer is encouraging others to "dig deep" after his donation yesterday to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Foundation Coronavirus Action Fund.
The Queensland mining magnate revealed himself as the extraordinarily generous "anonymous donor" today.
On Monday, University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director Professor David Paterson told news.com.au they have seen two drugs used to treat other conditions wipe out the virus in test tubes.
He said one of the medications, given to some of the first people to test positive for COVID-19 in Australia, had already resulted in "disappearance of the virus" and complete recovery from the infection.
Prof Paterson, who is also an infectious disease physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, said it wasn't a stretch to label the drugs "a treatment or a cure".
"It's a potentially effective treatment," he said.
"Patients would end up with no viable coronavirus in their system at all after the end of therapy."
The drugs are both already registered and available in Australia.
"What we want to do at the moment is a large clinical trial across Australia, looking at 50 hospitals, and what we're going to compare is one drug, versus another drug, versus the combination of the two drugs," Prof Paterson said.
They hope to have patients enrolled by the end of this month and are co-ordinating with hospitals in NSW and Victoria to establish common protocol.
Mr Palmer hoped his donation meant the clinical trial could "commence immediately".
"At this time of national crisis in our country all Australians must do whatever they can to help their fellow Australians," he said in a statement today.
"There are many other Australians beside me that can provide financial support necessary to allow our medical resources to be deployed in the shortest possible time to save lives.
"I want all Australians who have done well in this country to remember their fellow Australians and the sacrifices that have been made by previous generations and dig deep to support all efforts necessary to defeat this threat to our lives."
Mr Palmer last year spent $60 million on advertising during the election campaign, to no avail, and reached a deal to settle the majority of the $200 million lawsuit after the collapse of Queensland Nickel.
The RBWH Foundation said the "overwhelming community support" meant initial clinical trials "could now begin".
"Additional funding will allow trials to roll out to more hospitals including in regional areas," the foundation said.
YFG Shopping Centres, headquartered in Sunnybank in Brisbane, donated $150,000 to the fund earlier this week.
The #CoronavirusActionFund had a healthy injection today through a $150k donation from YFG Shopping Centres, Australia’s largest privately owned shopping centre portfolio. We thank YFG for their support and hope other major businesses join the race against #coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/dLEdHMi5JS— RBWHFoundation (@RBWHFoundation) March 16, 2020
WHAT ARE THE DRUGS?
One of the two medications is a HIV drug, which has been superseded by "newer generation" HIV drugs, and the other is an anti-malaria drug called chloroquine which is rarely used and "kept on the shelf now" due to resistance to malaria.
Prof Paterson said the researchers want to study them in a "very meaningful way" against the coronavirus to "try and alleviate that anxiety of Australians".
"There have already been patients treated with these in Australia and there's been successful outcomes but it hasn't been done in a controlled or a comparative way," he said.
The drugs would be given orally, as tablets, and potentially one day prescribed by general practitioners.
Prof Paterson said patients would be asked to participate "as soon as they're admitted" to hospital with the aim of beginning treatment "very early on in their illness".
He said the research was sparked by Chinese patients, who were first given the drug in Australia, showing their doctors information on the internet about the treatment used overseas.
"Our doctors were very, very surprised that a HIV drug could actually work against the novel coronavirus and there was a bit of scepticism," he said.
"That first wave of Chinese patients we had (in Australia), they all did very, very well when they were treated with the HIV drug.
"That's reassuring … that we're onto something really good here."
Prof Paterson said positive experiences in the fight against coronavirus have already been recorded overseas, citing China and Singapore.
His research team are confident they can start getting the drugs to patients in a very safe way on home soil.
"We want to give Australians the absolute best treatment rather than just someone's guesses or someone's anecdotal experiences from a few people," Prof Paterson told news.com.au.
"And that way, if we can test it in this first wave of patients, we do fully expect that there are going to be ongoing infections for months and months ahead, and therefore we'll have the best possible information to treat subsequent patients," Prof Paterson said.
"That's really our aim, to get real world experience in Australia."
He said the trouble with the data coming from China was that it wasn't really gathered "in a very controlled way", given they were the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak at the time.
"Things were just chaotic," Prof Paterson said.
"There were these emergency hospitals being built and the system really being very, very stretched."
Further donations to the Coronavirus Action Fund can be made here.