Gilead's COVID-19 drug remdesivir now in use in Japan hospitals
Japanese Ministry official Yasuyuki Sahara said that the US firm's treatment has been distributed to hospitals in the country since May 11 and is being used for patients in intensive care or those on ventilators.
Japan has begun treating severely ill COVID-19 patients with Gilead Sciences Inc's COVID-19 remdesivir drug, a Health Ministry official has said, just days after giving the drug emergency approval as it seeks to curb the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Remdesivir -- which previously failed as a treatment for Ebola -- is being tried against COVID-19 because it is designed to disable the mechanism by which certain viruses, including the new coronavirus, make copies of themselves and potentially overwhelm their host’s immune system.
Interest in remdesivir has been high as there are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for the novel coronavirus which has so far infected more than 4.3 million people worldwide, including at least 297,000 deaths.
Doctors are desperate for anything that might alter the course of the disease that attacks the lungs and can shut down other organs in extremely severe cases.
Sahara said the amount of remdesivir delivered by the drugmaker wasn't public information, and that global supplies were "quite limited".
California-based Gilead has pledged to donate the first 1.5 million doses of remdesivir. A company spokesperson said that a portion of that supply had been given to the Japanese government, without being more specific.
Japan has had about 16,000 infections and 687 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak, much lower than in many industrialised nations. The number of serious cases requiring ventilation was 259, according to the latest figures from the health ministry.
On May 7 Japan made remdesivir the first drug to be authorised in the country to treat COVID-19, reaching the decision just three days after Gilead filed for fast-track approval.
With no other approved treatments for COVID-19, interest in the drug is growing around the world. Administered by intravenous infusion, it was granted authorisation on May 1 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.
Gilead says the drug has improved outcomes for people suffering from the respiratory disease and has provided data suggesting it works better when given in the early stages of infection.
A trial performed by the US Institutes of Health (NIH) showed remdesivir drug cut hospital stays by 31% compared with a placebo treatment, although it did not significantly improve survival.