What is Remdesivir and why is it promising for COVID 19 treatment?
Remdesivir the first drug to get approval by the FDA to help fight SARS-CoV 2 (Photo: the conversation)

What is Remdesivir?

Remdesivir, a drug that once offered hope against Ebola, is now in the spotlight as the only current effective medication for COVID-19. But experts caution that it’s no “silver bullet” against the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

The drug’s history, though, shows the long and arduous path that compounds take from initial development to reaching the marketplace — a journey that many of these potential drugs never finish, according to Healthline.

Until now, the anti-viral medication remdesivir (Veklury) is the first drug to get approval by the FDA to help fight SARS-CoV 2, the virus that causes COVID-19. For use in hospitalized patients only, preliminary data shows those with advanced COVID-19 and lung involvement recovered faster after receiving remdesivir. It also shows activity in the lab and in animals against related coronaviruses including SARS and MERS-Co-V.

Eight percent of those who took the drug died compared to 11% who died after taking a placebo, according to STAT News.

A study back in July tapped remdesivir as one of 21 different existing drugs that could stop the replication of the novel coronavirus. The researchers said the drug might block the virus.

Sumit Chanda, Ph.D., professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, specifically called out the impact of remdesivir as a successful treatment back in July, cites Deseret News.

The trial results and how does the drug work?

Drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc. began research on remdesivir in 2009, as part of research programs for hepatitis C and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Later testing showed that the drug had broad-spectrum antiviral activity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called remdesivir an investigational intravenous drug that can have “broad” antiviral activity, as the Deseret News previously reported.

The drug is “is given through an IV and is designed to interfere with the virus’s ability to copy its genetic material,” according to the Associated Press.

And it has been used in the past to battle other coronavirus. The drug was made available early on in the fight against COVID-19 for “compassionate use” — like helping pregnant women and children who have COVID-19.

Since January, additional laboratory studies and multiple clinical trials with remdesivir have been started. The results of some of these trials have been published, with some promising signs.

Remdesivir started making the news back in April when Gilead Sciences said the drug was effective against the novel coronavirus. The study tested the drug against usual care for hospitalized coronavirus patients. Specifically, the study said people recovered quicker after using the drug, according to The Associated Press.

In late June, Gilead officials announced the company will charge $2,340 for a typical treatment course for people covered by government health programs. The charge will be $3,120 for people with private insurance plans. The amount people would pay out of pocket would depend on their insurance coverage, their income, and other factors.

However, FDA also warned that remdesivir (Veklury) “should only be administered in a hospital or in a health care setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care,”.

Is it promising for COVID-19 treatment?

Two studies on remdesivir were released last month. A Chinese study published in The LancetTrusted Source found that the drug didn’t improve recovery time or reduce mortality compared to people taking a placebo.

But a preliminary report published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that remdesivir shortened recovery time for people with COVID-19 from an average of 15 days to about 11 days.

Half of the patients in the study received remdesivir, the other half received an inactive placebo.

Study sub-investigator Dr. Robert M. Grossberg, an associate professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an infectious disease specialist at Montefiore Health System, said the results of this trial are “preliminary, but very promising.”

“This was a well-designed study that proved that an antiviral drug could improve outcomes in patients with moderate to severe COVID-19,” he said.

As for whether it keeps people from dying, he said the study “suggested that there might be a mortality benefit, but that wasn’t quite proven yet.”

In early June, Gilead announced that other data showed that people with moderate COVID-19 recovered more quickly when given the drug for 5 days, although the benefit was “modest.”

A 10-day course of the drug also improved patient outcomes, but the change wasn’t statistically significant. Patients in this study were hospitalized but didn’t need mechanical ventilation.

The data from this study hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so it should be viewed with some caution.

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