Touted by Trump, hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir fail as coronavirus therapy in preliminary studies

Two drugs touted by President Trump as potential game changers in the fight against the coronavirus have shown no benefit for infected patients who take them.

A clinical trial conducted in China appears to show that the antiviral drug remdesivir does not help patients with COVID-19 recover from the disease or keep them from dying, Stat reported, after viewing a preliminary report on the research.

The findings of the clinical trial for remdesivir, which is manufactured by Gilead Sciences, were inadvertently posted Thursday on the World Health Organization’s website before quickly being taken down.

“The manuscript is undergoing peer review and we are waiting for a final version before WHO comments,” WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said in a statement.

Gilead’s stock tumbled by more than 5 percent in midday trading Thursday as news of the Chinese paper spread, but the company faulted the study, which it said enlisted too few patients. The company said it believes remdesivir holds “potential benefit” for the treatment of COVID-19.

Last week, Gilead’s stock rose sharply after preliminary reports suggested that a clinical trial for remdesivir at the University of Chicago showed it to be effective in treating COVID-19. The drug has yet to be approved to treat the disease by the Food and Drug Administration, which is awaiting the results of more trials.

At a March 19 briefing of the coronavirus task force, Trump singled out remdesivir as one of two drugs he believed might be used as a weapon in his war with what he calls “the invisible enemy.”

“There are promising therapies produced by Gilead, and that’s remdesivir,” he said. “Remdesivir. And that’s a drug used for other purposes that’s been out and has very good results for other purposes, but it seems to have a very good result having to do with the virus.”

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Trump. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Trump also regularly promoted the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, telling doctors to prescribe it to their COVID-19 patients despite a lack of clinical trials or FDA approval of the medication for that purpose.

“I hope they use it, because I’ll tell you what, what do you have to lose?” Trump said on April 5.

A nationwide study conducted at U.S. veterans’ hospitals and posted online this week found that more COVID-19 patients died after being treated with hydroxychloroquine than among a control group. That study has yet to be peer reviewed.

French researchers conducted a separate study on whether hydroxychloroquine was effective in the treatment of COVID-19 and concluded last week that it does not help patients recover from the virus.

Echoing the president, Fox News hosts had also championed hydroxychloroquine, mentioning the drug hundreds of times on air in the weeks before the VA study came out. Since then, both the president and the Fox News anchors, whose views often seem indistinguishable, have all but stopped uttering the word.

Further clinical trials for both hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir could show that the drugs do help treat COVID-19, but these initial results indicate that the “game changer” cure the president has been hoping for may not have been discovered yet.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has consistently tried to temper the president’s enthusiasm for the two drugs, saying that randomized, double-blind studies are required to determine their efficacy and safety.

On Tuesday the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the federal agency Fauci leads, issued new guidelines stating that there is no drug that has been proven to treat COVID-19.


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