US optimistic about antiviral drug as possible COVID-19 treatment
Washington, April 30 (IANS) The US has expressed optimism over the use of antiviral drug remdesivir as a possible treatment for COVID-19 after a trial, although its manufacturer warned that the drug was yet to be proven safe and studies indicated its effectiveness remains unclear.
As the US battles to curb the spike in coronavirus cases and death which are currently the highest in the world, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday announced the results of the trial of remdesivir, developed by biotech company Gilead Sciences, reports Efe news.
The NIH reported that patients hospitalized around the world with COVID-19 who received remdesivir (1,063 patients in total) had a 31 per cent faster recovery rate – 11 days on average until discharge from hospital, than those receiving a placebo, which took an average of 15 days.
Based on these preliminary results, the death rate for those taking remdesivir was 8 percent compared to 11.6 percent for those taking a placebo.
One of the White House's top experts in the fight against the pandemic, Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH-affiliated National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), called the findings “quite good news”.
“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said.
US President Donald Trump expressed his wish that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the antiviral as soon as possible so that it can be administered against the virus.
“We would like to see very quick approvals, especially with things that work,” the President said in a meeting with industry executives at the White House on Wednesday.
The FDA said that it has been holding “sustained and ongoing” discussions with Gilead regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate.
Despite the promises from US authorities, the California-based drug manufacturer emphasized that remdesivir is “an investigational agent that has not been licensed or approved anywhere globally, and it has not been demonstrated to be safe or effective for any use, including for the treatment of COVID-19”.
The company said that it expects to have more data from a second study evaluating the efficacy of 5 and 10-day doses in patients with moderate COVID-19 symptoms by the end of May.
Remdesivir has not been approved for the treatment of any disease, but it was experimentally administered to Ebola patients in the past.
A study published by British medical journal The Lancet on a randomized controlled trial with remdesivir, which was carried out in hospitals in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic originated last December, suggests that this medicine “is not associated with significant clinical benefits”.
The antiviral did not accelerate the recovery of patients or reduce the death rate when compared to the use of a placebo, said the medical journal of the study, which was carried out from March 6-12 on 237 adults, although the initial target number was 435 patients.
Researchers had to stop the trial as there were not enough patients due to the sharp decline in COVID-19 cases in China, and concluded that “more evidence from ongoing clinical trials is needed to better understand whether remdesivir can provide meaningful clinical benefit”.
As of Thursday morning, the global number of coronavirus cases increased to 3,194,523, with 227,659 deaths.