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Remdesivir alone not enough to treat COVID-19, study says

A preliminary study of the antiviral drug remdesivir found that the use of it alone does not cure patients who are experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19. 

Data posted in the New England Journal of Medicine Saturday showed it shortened the amount of days patients experienced severe symptoms, but did not have a great enough impact on the mortality rate of the patients studied. 

"Preliminary results of this trial suggest that a 10-day course of remdesivir was superior to placebo in the treatment of hospitalized patients with Covid-19," the researchers wrote. 

The researchers tested 1,063 patients in the first double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to test the drug. Neither patients nor doctors knew which patients received the drug and which didn't until after the study.

Those who received the drug recovered in 11 days and those who got placebo treatment took 15 days on average. Seven percent of patients who were administered remdesivir died, compared to about 12 percent of those given placebo infusions.

The researchers, led by a team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said the drug was shown to help with those hospitalized with COVID-19 and required "supplemental oxygen therapy," such as a ventilator.

"However, given high mortality despite the use of remdesivir, it is clear that treatment with an antiviral drug alone is not likely to be sufficient," they wrote. "Future strategies should evaluate antiviral agents in combination with other therapeutic approaches or combinations of antiviral agents to continue to improve patient outcomes in Covid-19."

The long-awaited study comes as doctors across the country have said they are unsure when and how to use the drug. The researchers found that the drug is most effective when used before symptoms are bad enough to warrant a ventilator. 

"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, according to the study. 

The report comes three weeks after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug for emergency use on COVID-19 patients. Researchers noted that conducting the study amid a pandemic was challenging on several fronts. 

"The trial was implemented during a time of restricted travel, and hospitals restricted the entrance of nonessential personnel," they wrote.

Researchers with the NIAID said that a complete report will be published at a later date. 

"Our preliminary report is intended to help inform clinicians considering the use of remdesivir," the researchers wrote. "We are awaiting final visits, data entry, monitoring, and data lock for the last of the 1,063 patients enrolled, after which an update of the results will be provided."

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