Existing antiviral drug shows early promise as potential COVID-19 treatment

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Researchers say the drug remdesivir helped severely ill patients recover in a small test

Tests performed on Gilead Science’s antiviral drug remdesivir have reportedly shown positive results, leading researchers to hope it might be an effective treatment for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

STAT News reports that a small clinical trial at a Chicago hospital administered the drug to a group of patients exhibiting “severe” COVID-19 symptoms. The patients who received the drug saw a rapid recovery, with fever breaking and upper respiratory issues improving. “Nearly all” patients were discharged in less than a week, according to the publication.

Remdesivir is an existing drug that Gilead developed as a way to treat other kinds of diseases -- in particular, ebola. As the coronavirus spread around the world, the drug was on a short-list of existing medicines that scientists believed could effectively treat the virus.

According to STAT News, the clinical trial being conducted by the University of Chicago is “Phase 3,” the last step in the drug testing process, aimed at determining whether a drug actually works for its intended purpose.

Of the 125 patients in the trial, 113 were said to be suffering severe symptoms from the coronavirus. All the patients received remdesivir daily.

Leaked video

There has been no official announcement of the results because the trial is ongoing. STAT said it obtained a copy of a video conference from last week in which Kathleen Mullane, the University of Chicago infectious disease specialist who is overseeing the remdesivir study at the hospital, briefed other researchers.

“The best news is that most of our patients have already been discharged, which is great,” STAT quotes her as telling her colleagues. “We’ve only had two patients perish.”

She told her colleagues that it was too early to draw broad conclusions from the study. However, she did say patients were able to come off of ventilators one day after starting the therapy. 

While her comments may be a reason for hope, other trials of remdesivir are being conducted at other hospitals around the country. Gilead has been fairly tight-lipped, saying the final results of all the trials will be released at the same time, probably before the end of April.

“What we can say at this stage is that we look forward to data from ongoing studies becoming available,” the drugmaker said in a statement.

STAT News reported in March that remdesivir was one of the drugs scientists believed could be an effective treatment, noting that the drug is being tested in five clinical trials around the country.

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