What You Should Know About Remdesivir, The Potential COVID-19 Treatment

Britni de la Cretaz
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – APRIL 28: Biochemist Daniela Beatriz Ori manipulates swab samples to make a real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis for COVID-19 testing at the biochemistry lab of Central Navy Hospital Dr. Pedro Malloon April 28, 2020 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The hospital, which is treating COVID-19 patients, has capacity to process up to 36 swab samples a day. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – APRIL 28: Biochemist Daniela Beatriz Ori manipulates swab samples to make a real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis for COVID-19 testing at the biochemistry lab of Central Navy Hospital Dr. Pedro Malloon April 28, 2020 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The hospital, which is treating COVID-19 patients, has capacity to process up to 36 swab samples a day. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, researchers announced that they had “positive data” in regards to a potential treatment for COVID-19. Clinical trials for Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir, which was developed to treat Ebola, showed a “clear-cut positive effect in diminishing time to recover,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Federal Drug Administration is expected to issue an emergency-use authorization for the drug to treat COVID-19 patients, and the news has many wondering, what exactly is remdesivir?

First off, the drug is not a cure for COVID-19. Results of the coronavirus trial — which was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — found that recovery time for patients who took remdesivir was 11 days, as compared to 15 days for patients in the control group — a 31% faster time to recovery. Tests from the 1,063 subjects also showed decreased mortality for those taking the drug: 8% of patients in the group taking the drug died, versus 11.6% in the placebo group, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Although a 31% improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout 100%, it is very important proof of concept,” Fauci said at a White House briefing on Wednesday. “What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.” He also said the drug will become “the standard of care” for treating COVID-19.

While remdesivir was developed to help fight Ebola, results were never significant enough to warrant using it as a treatment. The NIH’s announcement said that “more detailed information about the [coronavirus] trial results, including more comprehensive data, will be available in a forthcoming report,” but some experts told the New York Times they were uncomfortable with the way the results were announced and the fact that the data had not been released or peer reviewed before being cited by the White House.

“It is unusual to call a drug the ‘standard of care’ until peer review of data and publication, and before studies have shown benefit in mortality,” Dr. Michele Barry, a global health expert at Stanford University, told the Times. Similarly, the World Health Organization told CNN it was too early to comment on the results, saying, “typically, you don’t have one study that will come out that will be a game changer.”

Meanwhile, a smaller trial for the drug that was conducted in China also had results published on Wednesday, but they found no significant benefits to the use of remdesivir to treat COVID-19 when compared to a placebo. One thing all researchers do seem to agree on is that more studies are needed.

Despite this, Dr. Fauci asserted on Thursday morning that remdesivir will be fast tracked. Appearing on NBC’s Today, he said that the use of this drug could happen “really quickly.” “I would project that we’re going to be seeing that reasonably soon,” Dr. Fauci announced. 

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