SEOUL, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- A South Korean hospital announced on Thursday that an HIV combination drug of lopinavir plus ritonavir showed effectiveness in treating a coronavirus patient.
Doctors at Myongji Hospital in Goyang, a city on the outskirts of Seoul, treated South Korea's third confirmed COVID-19 patient with the HIV cocktail and released him on Wednesday, a statement issued by the hospital said.
The patient, a 54-year-old Korean man, was quarantined at Myongji Hospital on Jan. 25 and was confirmed to have the COVID-19 infection the next day.
After the patient had been in the hospital for seven days, doctors began administering the lopinavir plus ritonavir combination drug, which is sold under brand name Kaletra by AbbVie, a U.S. biopharmaceutical company.
"Interestingly, from the next day of lopinavir/ritonavir administration, [the coronavirus] viral load started to decrease, and no detectable or little coronavirus titers have been observed since then," the hospital's report said.
The hospital noted that the results may have come from the natural course of the healing process but recommended using the drug combination for high-risk patients such as the elderly or those with other underlying diseases from an early stage of the illness.
The doctors also recommended a clinical trial to prove the effectiveness of the lopinavir/ritonavir treatment.
According to the hospital, the patient works in Wuhan, China, where the deadly coronavirus outbreak began, and returned to South Korea on Jan. 20. Two days later, he began experiencing symptoms.
The patient transmitted the virus to a friend on the first day of symptoms, who then spread it to two family members and another person in the first cases of tertiary transmission outside China.
South Korea has 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and has released seven fully recovered patients from hospital care.
There have been no new cases reported for two consecutive days, and the number of patients under quarantine while being checked for COVID-19 was down to 670 by Thursday morning from 785 the day before, according to data from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall, more than 1,350 deaths due to the virus have been reported, with a spike of some 242 new deaths in China's Hubei province reported on Wednesday along with an increase in the number of cases in the province to 14,480. However, the sharp increase in both figures is largely due to a broader definition being used to diagnose cases.
Officials from the World Health Organization expressed cautious optimism on Wednesday that the spread of the illness is slowing in China and around the world, although it warned that it was premature to draw any definitive conclusions.
"It's way too early to predict the beginning, the middle or the end of this epidemic," said Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program.
The Myongji Hospital medical team, led by Dr. Park Sang-joon, wrote a paper detailing the treatment process of the third patient, which is scheduled to be published on The Journal of Korean Medical Science website on Monday.