Experimental COVID-19 drug shows promise in new study

An experimental treatment for the coronavirus showed promise in an early analysis of the drug as the world scrambles for a cure to the highly infectious virus.

According to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Gilead Sciences Inc.’s experimental drug remdesivir was able to effectively treat a number of patients in the U.S., Europe and Canada who needed respiratory support.

The report tracked 53 patients, about half of whom needed mechanical ventilation and four of whom were on a heart-lung bypass machine. Of the 53 patients, 36 saw an improvement in oxygen-support class. Twenty-five people were discharged, while seven died. Mortality was particularly high among those who were on a ventilator.

The patients received the drug through Gilead’s compassionate use program, which is for critically ill patients who are unable to take part in a clinical trial. 

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“We recognize the limitations of these compassionate use data from a purely investigational perspective, while knowing they are of the greatest significance for the patients whose symptoms improved," said Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day. "These early data from 53 patients have not been generated in a clinical trial and cover only a small portion of the critically ill patients who have been treated with remdesivir."

A number of larger scale trials are underway to study the effect remdesivir has on COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. One trial conducted in China is expected to release results this month, while another from the U.S. National Institutes of Health could report results in the coming weeks.

No treatments are available for the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1.6 million people worldwide and killed more than 100,000.

Scientists are reportedly hopeful that remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral, could be used to combat COVID-19. A World Health Organization panel said in January that the drug, which was developed initially for Ebola, was particularly promising based on human and animal studies.

Updated: April 11 at 6:05 a.m.