India’s Drug Regulator Has Approved DRDO’s New COVID Drug on Missing Evidence – The Wire Science

Healthcare staff switch the physique of an individual who died from COVID-19, at a hospital in Kolkata, May 12, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Mumbai: On May 8, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) accepted a drug known as 2-deoxy-d-glucose (2-DG) for emergency use amongst individuals with reasonable and extreme COVID-19, to assist handle the illness.

This drug was collectively developed by researchers on the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, which falls below the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), and the pharmaceutical large Dr Reddy’s Laboratories.

In line with the DCGI’s approval for favipiravir, itolizumab and Verafin, the approval for 2-DG is predicated on poor proof.

2-DG is a modified glucose molecule that has been discovered to have some therapeutic worth as an anticancer and antiviral agent. Research on 2-DG goes as far back as 1956, though it hasn’t been approved to deal with some other ailments but. It is at present principally utilized in diagnostic testing and research-related actions.

The Wire Science couldn’t discover any preprint or peer-reviewed analysis paper uploaded by the DRDO and Dr Reddy’s group on 2-DG medical trials vis-à-vis COVID-19. Instead, we needed to depend on publicly obtainable data, like a press release – from the Ministry of Defence! – and medical trial registrations, to entry the standard of the proof.

No promise of success

In information reviews concerning the 2-DG approval, probably the most broadly used picture is from an in vitro examine of 2-DG in opposition to SARS-CoV-2. In vitro refers to research carried out exterior a organic entity – just like the human physique or humanised mice. Studies carried out inside a organic entity are known as in vivo.

(As it occurs, in line with one preprint paper, members of the Patanjali Research Institute and others urged using 2-DG final 12 months. It was based mostly, of all issues, on a pc simulation – in silico.)

This picture, which the federal government shared in a press release, exhibits that cell cultures in a laboratory with out 2-DG had extra viral plaques – clear spots indicating cell harm by the virus – in comparison with those with 2-DG. These research have been carried out on the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

Image of cell cultures in an in vitro examine of 2DG. Source: Ministry of Defence/Press Information Bureau

While these experiments present that 2-DG can inhibit viral development, they inform us little about its efficacy in people.

For instance, a examine published in August 2020 discovered that round 90 medicine that had been accepted by the US Food and Drug Administration had antiviral exercise in opposition to SARS-CoV-2 – as did ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, doxycycline, azithromycin and lopinavir. But none of them has been discovered to have any significant impact in human trials with COVID-19 sufferers.

Setting targets after firing the gun

Based on the outcomes from this in vitro trial, the nationwide drug regulator had accepted a section 2 trial for 2-DG – probably in May 2020.

According to the press launch, “Phase 2a was conducted in six hospitals and Phase 2b (dose ranging) clinical trial was conducted at 11 hospitals all over the country. Phase-2 trial was conducted on 110 patients.”

The Wire Science couldn’t discover the corresponding entries for any of those trials within the Clinical Trial Registry of India (CTRI). The cause for this discrepancy is unclear; emails to the principal investigators of each research hadn’t elicited a response on the time of publishing this text. The solely phase 2 trial registered for 2-DG concerned 40 sufferers throughout 12 websites.

From 2009, the DCGI mandated all human medical trials within the nation to be registered on CTRI prematurely. As such, if the 2-DG trials haven’t been registered, they’d be in violation of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s ethics guidelines.

Along with ensuring {that a} examine has been accepted by an ethics committee, registering a trial on the CTRI earlier than it begins additionally ensures researchers declare what parameters they are going to be measuring of their examine. This is a safeguard in opposition to unscrupulous researchers measuring many alternative parameters and solely reporting those that assist their speculation.

The DRDO and Dr Reddy’s carried out the 2-DG section Three trial in 220 sufferers at 26 websites across the nation. (The DRDO is listed because the trial’s main sponsor and Dr Reddy’s the secondary.) However, the CTRI registration of this trial doesn’t point out which parameters the trial researchers plan to measure.

For instance, the section 2 registration says that the trial’s main endpoint – the principle goal of the examine – could be to measure the development of trial members on a 10-point scale. The secondary endpoint contains round 15 different measurements, like mortality, enchancment in signs, time spent with supplemental oxygen, and so forth.

So the trial can be deemed to achieve success provided that the researchers measure a big constructive change on the first endpoints – which in 2-DG’s case the researchers have been marking on the 10-point scale.

The CTRI registration of the section Three trial, nevertheless, doesn’t disclose what the first endpoints have been.

According to the press launch, within the section Three trial, the members who obtained 2-DG had higher ‘symptom improvement’ and spent much less time receiving supplemental oxygen. But since we don’t know if these two parameters have been main endpoints of the section Three trial or simply one of many many secondary endpoints, we are able to’t know if the trial was a hit or if the discharge is just reporting the trial’s beneficial findings. Also notice that ‘symptom improvement’ and oxygen dependence have been secondary endpoints within the section 2 trial.

Dr S.P. Kalantri, a professor of medication on the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Sevagram, advised The Wire Science that failing to declare which analyses the researchers had determined to carry out prematurely destroys scientific rigour. “The data analysed in such studies is akin to a fishing expedition — trying to find out if something worthwhile emerges from the data. More often than not, such associations are by chance and are spurious.”

Room for prejudice

Next, take into account the outcomes from the section 2 trial of 2-DG. The main endpoint of this trial was the variety of days required for the sufferers to attain four or much less on the WHO’s 10-point scale to measure a COVID-19 affected person’s medical standing.

The WHO’s 10 factors ordinal scale for affected person enchancment. Source: The Lancet


There are two issues. First, it is a surrogate measurement that has little medical worth for sufferers. “The study does not tell us if the drug is capable of preventing ICU admissions, the need for mechanical ventilation or reducing deaths,” Dr Kalantri stated – and these are outcomes “that matter to the people”. Instead, the size solely tells us how a affected person would possibly do on a subjective scale.

Second, this scale is very, and famously, vulnerable to bias. There is not any one-to-one matching between a affected person’s signs and their rating on the size. It’s as much as the medical doctors concerned within the trial: they determine who will get a four and who will get a 6. And when it’s not completely attainable to justify every determination, there’s ample room for prejudicial decision-making.

For instance, clinicians who take part in trials which can be sponsored by the businesses making the drug are paid important sums of cash for his or her time. This compensation can in flip encourage them to undermine the ends in favour of the corporate.

To defend trials from such bias, they’re typically blinded: the clinician recording the info doesn’t know which sufferers obtained the drug and which didn’t. Blinding is necessary when researchers are measuring a subjective parameter – like a affected person’s rating on a 10-point scale.

Both the section 2 and section Three trials of 2-DG didn’t blind the clinicians.

The outcomes

DRDO and Dr Reddy’s haven’t printed any manuscripts describing the trials both in preprint repositories or scientific journals. The little data that we’ve concerning the efficacy of those medicine come from the federal government press launch.

For section 2, the press launch says the researchers reported a “significantly favourable trend”: that the very important indicators of those that acquired 2-DG returned to ‘normal’ 2.5 days sooner on common versus those that didn’t obtain 2-DG. (We don’t know what’s ‘normal’ right here both.) There are two issues right here.

First, normalisation of significant indicators is likely one of the 15 secondary endpoints – not a main endpoint. There is not any data within the launch concerning the main endpoint nor the opposite 14 secondary endpoints.

Second, the phrase “significantly favourable” and “significantly higher” have been used to explain the outcomes of the section 2 and three outcomes. The phrase ‘statistically significant’ can’t be a throwaway time period. To be statistically important means a selected measurement is just too giant to be the results of likelihood. And to assert a result’s important on this method, researchers sometimes carry out particular statistical calculations to show their level.

Without seeing these calculations, it’s unimaginable to say if using the time period “significantly” within the press launch alludes to significance of the statistical selection or the propagandist one. The press launch additionally doesn’t use the phrase “statistically”.

Next, a drug’s efficacy is just nearly as good as its security profile. While there have been a number of human trials for 2-DG over time, the drug hasn’t been accepted for human use earlier than this month.

According to the CTRI entries, 2-DG’s dosage in its section 2 trial was 45 mg per kg of physique weight within the morning and 18 mg/kg within the night. But in section 3, this was elevated to 45 mg/kg within the morning and 45 mg/kg within the night – for a complete of 90 mg/kg per day.

A smaller study by researchers within the US, printed in September 2010, examined the drug’s results amongst 12 most cancers sufferers. They discovered that 60 mg/kg of 2-DG per day was proven to trigger QT prolongation – a extreme cardiac situation. As Priyanka Pulla has reported earlier:

The electrical sign that contracts the guts muscle mass, thus permitting them to pump blood, passes by the guts as soon as each heartbeat and exhibits up on an ECG as a collection of waves labelled P,Q, R, S and T. When the time delay between the Q and T waves turns into longer than it must be, the situation is known as lengthy QT syndrome. This syndrome can render the guts beat chaotic in some individuals. This arrhythmia can in flip result in a sudden cardiac arrest.

Another examine, published in December 2012, discovered that ingesting 63-88 mg/kg of 2-DG per day may, amongst different issues, improve the particular person’s blood sugar ranges.

The press launch additionally doesn’t say something concerning the drug’s security profile, as ascertained within the section 2 or section Three trials. Phase Three trials particularly are essential to understanding any drug’s or vaccine’s long-term security. (This is likely one of the causes the DCGI’s approval for Covaxin with none knowledge from its section Three trial proved so controversial.) And in fact, it’s unimaginable to find any uncommon side-effects in a trial with solely 220 members; tens of hundreds needed to have been enrolled as a substitute.

From the in vitro experiments to the section Three trials, which have been sponsored by DRDO, public cash funded 2-DG’s growth. And as a result of the trials particularly have been so poorly designed, and poorly reported too, 2-DG’s trajectory through the COVID-19 represents a waste of the nation’s sources – and a betrayal of the individuals’s belief of their public establishments.

Requests for remark despatched to the DCGI’s workplace, the DRDO and Dr Reddy’s hadn’t elicited replies on the time of publishing. This article can be up to date as and when any of them reply.

Ronak Borana is a science communicator based mostly in Mumbai. He tweets at @ronaklmno.


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