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This coronavirus drug shows promise treating severe COVID-19 cases

Published Apr 17th, 2020 1:16PM EDT
Coronavirus Drug
Image: Dan Callister/Shutterstock

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  • A promising coronavirus drug that’s been in testing around the world for months is showing promise at treating COVID-19 severe cases.
  • Remdesivir is the medicine in question, an anti-viral originally created to treat Ebola.
  • Anecdotal evidence shows that the drug can reduce fever and need for ventilation, and can significantly improve the condition of severe COVID-19 patients.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

COVID-19 has already killed more than 144,000 people out of the 2.2 million reported cases since the new disease was detected in China nearly four months ago. Sadly, tens of thousands more will likely die in the weeks to come, as the novel coronavirus reaches local peaks in various countries. But the race to find a vaccine is on, with more than 70 candidates in development around the world, including three that have reached clinical trials. At the same time, doctors are testing potentially life-saving therapies for COVID-19 by repurposing existing drugs that are meant to treat other ailments. One of them is hydroxychloroquine, the controversial anti-malarial drug that was featured prominently during White House briefings. The drug has delivered results in limited studies, while other research showed the drug isn’t as good as expected. Also, its severe side-effects on the heart prompted the stoppage of other studies.

That’s not the only coronavirus cure that physicians are testing right now, and there’s one other drug that’s showing promising results in patients with severe COVID-19 cases.

We’ve talked about it before, as remdesivir is an anti-viral that’s included in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) massive COVID-19 trial. The drug was developed by Gilead Sciences to treat Ebola, but doctors repurposed it for COVID-19 therapy.

Remdesivir was one of the first medicines that had positive effects on COVID-19 in labs, and doctors in the US and other countries have been using it to treat patients in clinical trials. The results of all that research are yet to be published, but some of it has already leaked. Stat News has seen a video of a discussion about remdesivir therapy, and the early results are quite promising.

The University of Chicago Medicine recruited 125 people in two Phase 3 trials for remdesivir, of which 113 had a severe form of the disease. These cases can significantly worsen, with complications leading to death. The patients were treated with daily infusions of remdesivir, and the majority of them recovered even faster than expected.

“The best news is that most of our patients have already been discharged, which is great. We’ve only had two patients perish,” University of Chicago infectious disease specialist Kathleen Mullane said in the leaked clip. The study doesn’t include a placebo group for comparison, so drawing conclusions is difficult at this time.

“But certainly when we start [the] drug, we see fever curves falling,” she said. “Fever is now not a requirement for people to go on trial, we do see when patients do come in with high fevers, they do [reduce] quite quickly. We have seen people come off ventilators a day after starting therapy. So, in that realm, overall, our patients have done very well… Most of our patients are severe, and most of them are leaving at six days, so that tells us duration of therapy doesn’t have to be 10 days. We have very few that went out to 10 days, maybe three,” she said.

Stat also details the case of a 57-year-old factory worker from a Chicago suburb who might have been infected by his daughter. “It felt like someone was punching me in the lungs,” he said, after experiencing a high fever, shortness of breath and severe pain in his back. He went to the hospital on April 3rd with 104-degree Fahrenheit fever and trouble breathing. He received oxygen and agreed to be included in the remdesivir study.

“My fever dropped almost immediately, and I started to feel better,” he said. The patient received the first dose on April 4th. The second dose came a day later, and he was taken off oxygen. He received two more remdesivir infusions, and then he was discharged on April 7th. “Remdesivir was a miracle,” he said.

All of that, including the leaked video and the patient’s remark, is anecdotal evidence right now. Mullane said as much to Stat when she confirmed the authenticity of the discussion. “Drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scientifically unsound,” she said.

Gilead’s severe COVID-19 study includes 2,400 participants from 152 clinical trial sites all over the world. The moderate COVID-19 study consists of 1,600 patients in 169 international centers. The report doesn’t say whether the study is part of WHO’s massive coronavirus drug trial. Of note, the study is looking at two different types of remdesivir therapies, including 5- and 10-day treatment courses.

“What we can say at this stage is that we look forward to data from ongoing studies becoming available,” Gilead said in a statement. The first results will be ready this month, with Mullane having said that data for the first 400 patients would be “locked” this week.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.