Features Australia

No guts, no glory

Does an Australian gastro legend hold the key to curing Covid?

15 August 2020

9:00 AM

15 August 2020

9:00 AM

Professor Thom Borody isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Indeed, the world-famous gastroenterologist who teamed up with Nobel prize-winners Barry Marshall and Robin Warren to take on the medical establishment, is seen by some as a sh-tstirrer. Yet Borody’s innovative treatments have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and more than $10 billion in avoided medical costs.

So, you would think, when Borody says there is a cure for the coronavirus, the medical establishment and Australia’s political class would sit up and take notice. Yet, the fact that so far they haven’t should surprise no one. Marshall, Warren and Borody had to fight for almost two decades until the simple idea was accepted that peptic stomach ulcers were caused not by stress and spicy food but bacterial infection.

Resistance came not just from scientific sceptics but an ‘Acid Mafia’— big pharmaceutical companies who made a lot of money selling drugs under the old premise that gastric juices not helicobacter pylori were to blame. It was Borody who came up with a cheap triple therapy of low-cost antibiotics to cure ulcers, but it wasn’t until Marshall and Warren had won the Nobel prize that the Acid gang stopped attacking the innovators.

‘It just takes courage and years and years of perseverance to change paradigms,’ Borody says. The trouble is we don’t have decades. More than 300 Australians have already died of Covid-19, since Dr Kylie Wagstaff announced on 3 April that ivermectin, a drug that’s been around for almost 50 years and kills everything from head lice and scabies to the parasites that cause river blindness, also kills Sars-Cov-2 virus in test tubes.

Since then, doctors using ivermectin have saved thousands of people around the world who were sick with Covid, even many close to death; the mortality rates for those on ventilators dropped from 81 per cent to 39 per cent. As for people who have just been infected with the virus, there is an almost 100 per cent cure rate. And it is also working as a prophylactic, protecting healthcare workers.

Yet, other than Borody, almost nobody in Australia is treating patients with ivermectin. Why? At first glance, it seems inexplicable. Borody’s triple therapy combines ivermectin with a bog-standard — pardon the pun — antibiotic and zinc. The safety profile is so well-known that there is virtually no risk. There are already 33 clinical trials running around the world. The results so far are uniformly positive. Borody is running a randomised, controlled, double-blind trial in the US, which, as soon as it achieves statistical significance, will provide the gold-standard of evidence that the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration require to sign off on the triple therapy as an approved Covid-19 treatment. But all that takes time. Until then, it is perfectly legal, and common practice, to prescribe medication off-label, that is, to treat an ailment other than the one for which a drug was originally intended. Indeed, many drugs are used off-label for decades because there is no need to get a new approval and setting up clinical trials is an unnecessary expense.

The two main reasons that doctors aren’t yet prescribing ivermectin and doxycycline for Covid-19 are, first, that medical litigation has created an ultra-cautious culture even when there is virtually no risk, and second, doctors are mostly imprisoned in the prevailing paradigm which holds that there is no effective treatment to cure Covid-19 and that the only way out of Australia’s pandemic penitentiary is a vaccine. That’s a message that is promoted by powerful pharmaceutical companies who hope to make a motza out of expensive patented medicine and who would make nothing from a cheap generic cure.

For 80 years, we’ve been home to some of the world’s greatest medical researchers. We have produced eight Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine. Yet a vaccine for a coronavirus should never have been Plan A for anyone as a way out of a pandemic. Pinning a nation’s freedom and economic prosperity on the rapid development of a safe and effective vaccine is like planning to breed another Phar Lap to win the Melbourne Cup. It might be possible, but even with our outsized endowment of medical research talent, it’s still not very likely, it would take a long time, and at the end, you may find that instead of a thoroughbred all you’ve got is Drongo, the horse that had 37 starts and never won a race.

Slowly, the true believers are being forced to contemplate the prospect that their ‘get out of jail’ card might be a chimera. At the ABC, the health and well-being reporter published a forlorn article this week entitled, ‘A coronavirus vaccine is what our hopes are pinned to, but what’s the plan if we don’t get one?’ Former Labor minister Craig Emerson penned an op-ed in which he still prayed fervently that we’d find the holy grail — a vaccine to induce a V-shaped recovery — but admitted that we should be working on Plan B in case a preventive shot or cure proved elusive.

It is extraordinary how little thought has been given to an effective cure. In part that’s because the only drug, other than ivermectin, that has shown promise as a prophylactic, an anti-viral and in dampening down Covid’s fearful cytokine storm is hydroxychloroquine, which has been demonised both by Big Pharma and by US Democrats. It is now an article of faith on the Left that it doesn’t work, despite remarkable results at some of America’s leading hospitals and support from Ivy League academics. Indeed, it has become a slur. Paul Krugman, economist at the New York Times and Nobel Laureate beloved of leftists, damned President Trump’s payroll tax cut as ‘the hydroxychloroquine of economic policy,’ and ‘quack medicine’ from ‘a pitchman hawking snake-oil policy from his Country Club.’

This ‘hydroxy hysteria’ as Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro calls it, has been adopted holus bolus by the ABC. However, it’s not just ‘hydroxy hatred’ that is a dogma on the Left; merely to seek a cure is, as a fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy told the ABC, ‘an individualistic solution’ which appeals to those on the right, in opposition to ‘more left-leaning values around social responsibility.’ It’s a ‘quick fix, a magic cure’ for the ‘problem’ of the virus, he says, not ‘a social solution that implies we have to work together’ — with government —‘to address larger, more complex, and interrelated issues in society to battle the disease.’ In this toxic environment, it takes someone with guts to wade into the sh-tstorm and save Australian lives. It is our nation’s great good fortune that Thom Borody could be just that man.

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