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Remdesivir: Hope for coronavirus?

Dr Anthony Fauci, who praised remdesivir Image credit: The White House from Washington, DC / Public domain
U.S. official Dr Anthony Fauci, who said trial data showed remdesivir could have a “significant, positive effect in treating COVID-19.” Image credit: The White House from Washington, DC / Public domain

The antiviral drug remdesivir could have a “significant, positive effect” in the treatment of COVID-19 patients according to a U.S. official. However, the Union Health Ministry is cautious. 

A trial of the drug, developed by Gilead Sciences, showed promising results in the United States according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). For those with advanced COVID-19, the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2) or coronavirus, “remdesivir was better than placebo from the perspective of the primary endpoint, time to recovery, a metric often used in influenza trials. Recovery in this study was defined as being well enough for hospital discharge or returning to normal activity level.”

The trial involved 1,063 people across 68 sites – 47 in the United States and 21 in Asia and Europe. Based on preliminary data, those who received remdesivir experienced a 31 percent quicker recovery time compared to those who received placebo. The NIH explained that “specifically, the median time to recovery was eleven days for patients treated with remdesivir compared with fifteen days for those who received placebo. Results also suggested a survival benefit, with a mortality rate of eight percent for the group receiving remdesivir versus 11.6 percent for the placebo group.” 

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases which sponsored the trial and a leader in the U.S. fight against COVID-19, heralded the results and said “the data shows remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.” He added that “although a 31 percent improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout 100 percent, it is a very important proof of concept. What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”

However, Indian officials are more cautious. Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said the study did have positive outcomes but is “still inconclusive.” Remdesivir is being utilised on a trial basis in some Indian hospitals. 

An earlier study published in The Lancet investigating remdesivir said it “was not associated with statistically significant clinical benefits. However, the numerical reduction in time to clinical improvement in those treated earlier requires confirmation in larger studies.” It noted adverse effects in 66 percent of remdesivir recipients, versus 64 percent of placebo recipients.

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