Remdesivir: early findings on experimental coronavirus drug offer ‘quite good news’

Preliminary results of US government trial show patients who received drug recovered faster than others

Remedesivir
Dr Anthony Fauci, left, called the early results ‘quite good news’. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

(The Guardian) — Coronavirus patients who received an experimental drug recovered faster than patients who received normal care, according to the preliminary results of a new trial announced on Wednesday by the US pharmaceutical company and the Trump administration.

Gilead Sciences’s drug, remdesivir, is the first treatment to pass such a strict test against the virus, which has killed more than 220,000 people worldwide since it emerged late last year in China.

Having an effective treatment could have a profound effect on the global pandemic, especially because health officials say any vaccine against Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is at least a year away.

The study, run by the US federal agency the National Institutes of Health, tested remdesivir versus usual care in 1,063 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world.

Top US public health official Dr Anthony Fauci on Wednesday called the early results “quite good news”.

At the White House, Fauci said the drug reduced the time it takes patients to recover by 31%, 11 days on average versus 15 days for those just given usual care.

He also said there was a trend toward fewer deaths among those on remdesivir, and that full results would soon be published in a medical journal.

NIH begins clinical trial of remdesivir in search for coronavirus treatment as of February 27, 2020

“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said. “This will be the standard of care.”

A statement from the US regulator the Food and Drug Administration said that the agency has been talking with California-based Gilead “regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate”.

Emergency use of the new drug could begin as soon as Wednesday, the New York Times reported.

“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said. “This will be the standard of care.”

A statement from the US regulator the Food and Drug Administration said that the agency has been talking with California-based Gilead “regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate”.

Emergency use of the new drug could begin as soon as Wednesday, the New York Times reported.

However, a separate set of results published by the Lancet medical journal on Wednesday of a trial conducted in China concluded remdesivir failed to improve patients’ condition or reduce the pathogen’s presence in the bloodstream. Gilead said previously that those findings, released inadvertently by the World Health Organization last week, were inconclusive because the study was terminated early.

Remdesivir is among many treatments being tested against the coronavirus but was the farthest along in study.

The drug is given through an intravenous drip and is designed to interfere with the virus’s ability to copy its genetic material.

In animal tests against previous viral pandemics caused by SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness.

But it is not yet approved anywhere in the world for any use.

The NIH study quickly enrolled its original goal of 440 patients and then was expanded to give more answers on questions such as which subgroups may or may not benefit, and other factors that may affect success, such as how early in the course of illness the drug is given.

The study’s main goal also was altered. Originally, it was the percentage of patients having various outcomes such as needing a breathing machine, fully recovered or dying 15 days after starting treatment.

The new main goal is time to recovery, such as no longer needing oxygen or hospitalization.

Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infections diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, said the preliminary results fit with a previous study, adding: “This is a real effect and that remdesivir can help patients with Covid-19.”

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