APR 11, 2020 3:42 PM PDT

Remdesivir Improves COVID-19 Symptoms in 68% of Patients in Early Study

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

An early analysis of remdesivir, a drug developed by pharmaceutical firm Gilead, has shown that it may have improved severe symptoms of COVID-19 in 68% of patients after 18 days. 

For the Gilead-funded study, doctors recruited 61 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 with oxygen saturation of 94% or less while breathing ambient air or receiving oxygen support. To receve remdesivir on a compassionate use basis (a program allowing the use of unapproved medicines when no other treatment options are available), on the first day of treatment, patients were administered 200mg of remesdevir, and then 100 mg daily on the remaining 9 days of treatment.

After 18 days of receiving the treatment, the doctors found just 53 patients who met the criteria following treatment for analysis. Among them, 36 (68%) had notable improvements in oxygen support class, including 17 patients receiving mechanical ventilation who were extubated. 25 patients were consequently discharged, while 7 died.

“We cannot draw definitive conclusions from these data, but the observations from this group of hospitalized patients who received remdesivir are hopeful,” said lead author of the study, Jonathon Grein, director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. 

Despite his optimism however, some remain skeptical of these results. Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said, “The data from this paper are almost uninterpretable...There is some evidence suggesting efficacy, but we simply do not know what would have happened to these patients had they not been given the drug.”

Waiting to confirm the validity of these results are several large scale clinical trials currently investigating its effect against the virus. While one study conducted in China may be able to publish results later this month, another by the US National Institutes of Health may be able to report results in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Gilead is sponsoring two more trials. 

“In studying remdesivir, the question is not just whether it is safe and effective against Covid-19, but in which patients it shows activity, how long should they receive treatment and at what stage of their disease would treatment be most beneficial,” said Daniel O’Day, Gilead’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Many answers are needed, which is why we need multiple types of studies involving many types of patients.”


Sources: Bloomberg, New England Journal of Medicine

About the Author
  • Science writer with a keen interest in behavioral biology, consciousness medicine and technology. Her current focus is how the interplay of these fields can create meaningful interactions, products and environments.
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