New drug trial shows Gilead's remdesivir works best in coronavirus patients on oxygen
The US National Institutes of Health trial showed that recovery time for patients given remdesivir was shortened by four days, or 31%, compared to placebo patients. Gilead said it expects results from its own study of remdesivir in patients with moderate COVID-19 at the end of this month.
Amid several trials across the world for a potential treatment for COVID-19, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has said that data from its trial of Gilead Sciences Inc's remdesivir show that the drug offers the most benefit for the novel coronavirus patients who need extra oxygen but do not require mechanical ventilation.
Remdesivir -- which previously failed as a treatment for Ebola -- is being tried against the novel coronavirus because it is designed to disable the mechanism by which certain viruses, including the new virus, make copies of themselves and potentially overwhelm their host’s immune system.
The US Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of remdesivir on May 1, and Gilead has been supplying the drug to hospitals as part of a pledge to donate 1.5 million vials - or enough for at least 140,000 patients.
The peer-reviewed data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The trial, for which final results are still trickling in, showed that recovery time for patients given remdesivir was shortened by four days, or 31%, compared to placebo patients. The biggest benefit was seen in patients who were sick enough to need supplemental oxygen, but were not on a ventilator.
The data detailed in the journal is similar to early results that the NIH released last month from the study, which began in February with 1,063 participants in 10 countries.
Researchers now calculate that after follow up, 7% of patients given remdesivir will have died, compared with 12% in the placebo group, but they said the difference in the death rate was not significant.
"Our findings highlight the need to identify COVID-19 cases and start antiviral treatment before the pulmonary disease progresses to require mechanical ventilation," the researchers wrote.
They noted that "given high mortality despite the use of remdesivir," it is likely that the antiviral drug would be more effective in combination with other treatments for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Gilead said it expects results from its own study of remdesivir in patients with moderate COVID-19 at the end of this month.
"We look forward to the initiation of combination studies of remdesivir to understand whether the addition of other drugs may enhance patient outcomes," Gilead Chief Medical Officer Merdad Parsey said in a statement.
Interest in remdesivir has been high as there are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19. 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.
Earlier this month, Gilead said it was negotiating long-term licenses with several generic drugmakers in India and Pakistan to produce remdesivir for developing countries and that it would provide technology to aid the production.
The company also said it was in advanced talks with UNICEF to deliver remdesivir using the agency's distribution networks.