The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and HIV are both RNA-based viruses, so there was hope that current HIV medications might be able to speed recovery of patients with COVID-19. Unfortunately, early evidence suggests that just isn't the case.

On Monday, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 0.23%) said there was no evidence that its HIV drug Prezista, by itself or in combination with other HIV drugs, has any effect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

And on Wednesday, doctors in China published an article in The New England Journal of Medicine reporting that AbbVie's (ABBV 1.26%) HIV drug Kaletra plus standard of care wasn't any better than the standard of care.

In the clinical trial, which enrolled 199 patients, treatment with Kaletra for two weeks didn't improve survival, the amount of virus in the patients, or even the length of time that patients stayed in the hospital.

Doctors in protective suits and a patient in a restricted area

Image source: Getty Images.

The patients in the trial were severely ill; the mortality rate of 22.1% was higher than the mortality rate found in other studies, which could have skewed the results. When excluding three patients who died early in the study, the median time to clinical improvement was better for patients treated with Kaletra (15 days vs. 16 days).

Kaletra also appeared to improve recovery and mortality in patients who were treated within 12 days of onset of COVID-19 symptoms, although the analysis was after the fact and not built into the study. "These observations are hypothesis-generating and require additional studies to determine whether [Kaletra] treatment given at a certain stage of illness can reduce some complications in COVID-19," the authors of the study noted.