Gilead Sciences just announced plans for two late-stage clinical studies to test a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the growing coronavirus outbreak.
The studies will enroll approximately 1,000 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Asian countries and other areas with high rates of cases, the company said on Wednesday.
The two trials will test an antiviral medication called remdesivir, a therapy that was previously tested against the Ebola virus.
A Gilead executive said other studies of remdesivir in China would "give us a more expansive breadth of data globally on the drug's profile in a short amount of time."
The drug industry is racing to develop vaccines and treatments to halt the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 2,800 people and sickened more than 82,000
The $95 billion biotech Gilead Sciences is accelerating its effort to test a promising drug to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the spreading coronavirus outbreak.
Gilead announced on Wednesday plans for two late-stage clinical trials. The studies will assess different doses and treatment courses of the experimental antiviral medication remdesivir in about 1,000 patients with COVID-19.
A sense of urgency has been placed on the drug industry to identify and develop vaccines and treatments to halt the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 2,800 people and sickened more than 82,000. Since it originated in China, the virus has spread to at least 40 other countries, encompassing six continents.
The efforts build on ongoing tests of the drug in China and the US. Gilead said these new studies would start enrolling patients in March "across Asian countries, as well as other countries globally with high numbers of diagnosed cases."
Ruben Sprich / Reuters
Gilead said it would likely get the first results from some of those earlier studies in April.
The National Institutes of Health's infectious-disease unit recently started a trial of remdesivir in the US with COVID-19 patients.
"Gilead's primary focus is on rapidly determining the safety and efficacy of remdesivir as a potential treatment for COVID-19, and this complementary array of studies helps to give us a more expansive breadth of data globally on the drug's profile in a short amount of time," Merdad Parsey, Gilead's chief medical officer, said in a statement.
The company's stock jumped 4% in early trading on Thursday. Investors have embraced companies that may benefit financially from the coronavirus outbreak, even as the broader stock market has tumbled over fears that the coronavirus outbreak could slow the global economy. The biotech Moderna has spiked in recent days amid optimisim for its potential coronavirus vaccine.
Michael Yee, an analyst at Jefferies, said that even if remdesivir works to treat coronavirus, the financial benefits to Gilead would likely be modest. The company might not be able to charge a high price for the drug, most people would only use it once for a short-time, and the company might give it away at a low cost for humanitarian reasons in some cases, he said in a research note.
Health officials and experts have emphasized the potential for remdesivir. A single case reported in The New England Journal of Medicine stirred initial excitement about the drug's promise.
"There is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that's remdesivir," Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general of the World Health Organization, said at a recent press conference, CNN reported.
This article was published on February 27 and has been updated.
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