Breakthrough drug used to treat coronavirus is NOT part of Oxford University trial

A breakthrough anti-viral drug found to help critically-ill patients recover from coronavirus within a week is not part of a drug trial run by the University of Oxford to find a treatment, it has emerged. 

The drug remdesivir, manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, has been undergoing trials in the US and smaller trials in the UK run by the Gilead itself, in which some severely ill patients had recovered rapidly enough to be taken off ventilators within 24 hours. 

Gilead said yesterday that more than 100 patients had been recruited to trial the drug at 15 NHS centres and that results should be expected within weeks.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Professor Peter Horby, who is leading the UK’s recovery trial of drugs at the University of Oxford, said the drug was not part of the country’s tests. 

In the US, at the University of Chicago Medicine, 125 people with COVID-19 were recruited as part of global clinical trials for the drug. Of those people, 113 had severe disease.  

All the patients were treated with daily infusions of remdesivir, an experimental drug first touted to treat Ebola which has been in the making for ten years. 

Most of the patients have been discharged after their symptoms eased over a week, and only two patients have died.

The drug remdesivir, manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, has been undergoing trials in the US and smaller trials in the UK run by the Gilead itself (pictured, a vial of the drug Remdesivir)

Professor Horby said: ‘So that drug is in a number of trials. There is a trial that’s just finished in China and I think we will see the results of that fairly soon and it’s also in trials in the UK led by the drug company and it’s on trials in the US. But it’s not currently in our trial.’ 

He added: ‘I think we’ve got to be cautious. But yes, it is a drug that in the laboratory looks like it’s got good activity. So we would just hope it has the same activity in people and patients.’



The Principle trial is studying people aged 50 to 64 who have COVID-19 symptoms and a chronic health condition such as heart disease, asthma or cancer. 

It is unclear how many patients are taking part. 

It is also open to those aged 65 or over, with or without other illnesses.

The first drug that will be trialled is hydroxychloroquine, sold as Plaquenil. Other potential treatments will be used if they show promise in pre-clinical studies.

The study is being run at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) in Surrey.

It will last until March next year.


The Randomised Evaluation of COV-id19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial is being run by the University of Oxford. 

It will test the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir, marketed as Kaletra and Aluvia, hydroxychloroquine, a malaria medication sold as Plaquenil, and dexamethasone, a type of steroid use in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation.

Almost 1,000 patients from 132 different hospitals have been already recruited in just 15 days.

Thousands more are expected to join the trial in the coming weeks, making it the largest randomised controlled trial of potential COVID-19 treatments in the world.

Definitive results on whether the treatments are safe and effective are expected within months and, if positive, they could potentially benefit hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. 


The REMAP-CAP trial is an international effort, with more than 50 research teams around the world taking part. 

It is looking specifically at patients who develop community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) as a result of viral infections.   

The study will test 16 drugs, including  hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon beta, which have all shown promise in pre-clinical trials.

Between 2,000 and 4,000 patients will be enrolled.

The UK drug programme is called the RECOVERY Trial (The Randomised Evaluation of COV-id19 thERapY) and is the world’s biggest single trial of drugs to treat the coronavirus.

The university got the support of Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and put out a plea to doctors around the country to enrol patients in the voluntary trial.  

Volunteers have since joined the trial from more than 160 NHS trusts around the country and scientists are hopeful more people will continue to sign up. 

Medics have not put a number on the amount of people the trial needs in order to be successful but has said the more participants the trial has, the more likely it will be the team will find answers.   

Participants will receive one of four drugs currently on the market — including the anti-malaria drug touted by Donald Trump, known as hydroxychloroquine.  

The other drugs being looked at as a treatment for COVID-19 include a combination of Lopinavir and Ritonavir (known by the brand name Kaletra), which is used to treat HIV; low-dose Dexamethasone,a steroid used to reduce inflammation; and azithromycin, a commonly used antibiotic. 

Professor Horby said: It’s been set up across the NHS in unprecedented speed. At the moment we’re recruiting around 300 patients per day. Which is almost equivalent to a trial a day. So we’re really breaking some records here to try and find a treatment as soon as we can.’

Interest has been growing around the remdesivir drug however, after success stories across the globe.

Dr Kathleen Mullane, who is overseeing a trial of the drug at the University of Chicago, told The Times: ‘Most of our patients are severe and most of them are leaving at six days.’ 

During the University of Chicago study the patients were treated with daily infusions of remdesivir, an experimental drug first touted to treat Ebola which has been in the making for ten years. 

Most of the patients have been discharged after their symptoms eased over a week, and only two patients have died.

The manufacturer – pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences – saw its shares surge by 16 per cent in after hours trading on Thursday as American stock markets rallied overnight in response to the encouraging trial results.

There are currently no approved treatments for COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus that has infected over two million people worldwide. 

Hopes have been pinned on remdesivir, but experts have urged cautious optimism over early findings. 

Remdesivir anti-viral trial reports ‘rapid recoveries’ for severe hospitalised coronavirus patients, with nearly all discharged within a week. Pictured: A vial of the investigational drug remdesivir is visually inspected at a Gilead manufacturing site in the United State

The University of Chicago is one of 152 locations participating in Gilead’s phase three clinical trial involving severe COVID-19 patients. Pictured, headquarters in Foster City, California 

Professor Peter Horby, who is leading the UK’s recovery trial of drugs at the University of Oxford, said remdesivir was not part of the country’s tests

Remdesivir is only an experimental drug, and was initially hoped to help fight Ebola. But it faltered in comparison to others drugs.

It has been thrust into the limelight once more after the World Health Organization listed it as ‘the most promising candidate’ for a COVID-19 therapy in January. 

The medicine has been shown to stop other similar coronaviruses, including MERS, in tests on animals. 

And the first COVID-19 patient diagnosed in the US reportedly improved overnight after doctors gave the 35-year-old remdesivir as a last-ditch attempt to treat him. 

Scientists say remdesivir – which is also being trialled in scores of British hospitals – could have a ‘profound impact’ on the global pandemic.

The University of Chicago is one of 152 locations participating in Gilead’s phase three clinical trial involving severe COVID-19 patients, with other locations in the UK.

It’s a ‘single arm’ study meaning it does not measure the drug against a matched group of patients treated with a placebo. 

Remdesivir has been thrust into the limelight once more after the World Health Organization listed it as ‘the most promising candidate’ for a COVID-19 therapy in January. Pictured is a mock-up of a pill version, as it is currently only an experimental drug

The antiviral medication led to ‘rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms’, with ‘nearly all patients discharged in less than a week’. Picutred: An ampule of remdesivir during a news conference at the University Hospital Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany, April 8

UChicago Medicine recruited 125 people with COVID-19 into Gilead’s two Phase 3 clinical trials, according to medical news website STAT. 

Of those people, 113 had severe disease. All the patients were been treated with daily infusions of remdesivir.


Remdesivir was developed around 10 years ago with the intention of it destroying the Ebola virus. It was pushed aside, however, when other, better candidates emerged.

It’s made by California-based pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, the firm behind the life-changing HIV-preventing pill Truvada, or PrEP. Because it is only an experimental drug, it doesn’t have a marketed name.

Lab tests of remdesivir have shown promise against coronaviruses – but human trials are still in their early days.

Doctors in the US have tried it on patients and it managed to speed up the recovery of the first person to be treated for the virus there.

The a 35-year-old man in Washington state, close to Seattle – whose infection was announced on January 20 – recovered after being given the drug.  

A Californian woman who doctors ‘thought was going to pass away’ also recovered in the US after being given the drug.

Four American passengers on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship treated with the drug in Japan also recovered.  

Officials in Liguria – a coastal region of Italy – also announced an infected man in his 70s had recovered and could go home after 12 days in hospital. 

It is not prescribed on the NHS because it hasn’t been approved.

Hundreds of patients – including some in the UK – taking part in a European mega-trial will get chance to take the drug to prove if it can fight the coronavirus. 

The drug is also being trialled on coronavirus patients in China and at the University of Nebraska.

Scientists are full of hope because the drug is proven to be safe in humans. But its side effects are still not well understood. 

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, hailed remdesivir as ‘one of the most promising antivirals’ being investigated.

While Dr Alfredo Garzino-Demo, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said evidence shows it has the ability to treat COVID-19 patients.

The antiviral medication led to ‘rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms’, with ‘nearly all patients discharged in less than a week’.

Most of them have now been discharged, despite the large majority being severly sick to start with, and two patients died.

The results were revealed by Kathleen Mullane, the infectious disease specialist overseeing the remdesivir studies for the hospital, in a video conference, of which STAT obtained a copy. 

The ‘anecdotal data … looks promising on the surface and continues to support some potential for the drug to be active in certain COVID-19 patients,’ RBC Capital Markets analyst Brian Abrahams said in a research note. 

‘Nonetheless, there are major limitations to contextualizing and interpreting this data.’

Interest in Gilead’s drug amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been high.

The New England Journal of Medicine last week published an analysis showing that two-thirds of a small group of severely ill COVID-19 patients saw their condition improve after treatment with remdesivir.

The paper’s author called the findings ‘hopeful,’ but cautioned it is difficult to interpret the results since they do not include comparison to a control group.

The patient numbers were small, the details being disclosed were limited, and the follow-up time was relatively short. 

Gilead, in an emailed statement, said ‘the totality of the data need to be analyzed in order to draw any conclusions from the trial’.

UChicago Medicine, also in an email, said ‘partial data from an ongoing clinical trial is by definition incomplete and should never be used to draw conclusions’.

The university said information from an internal forum for research colleagues concerning work in progress was released without authorization.

Gilead expects results from its Phase 3 study in patients with severe COVID-19 at the end of this month, and additional data from other studies to become available in May.

The company’s severe COVID-19 study includes 2,400 participants from 152 different clinical trial sites all over the world. 

British patients will also be enrolled, with 15 NHS trusts in London, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Plymouth signed up.

Another Gilead trial of patients with moderate COVID-19 symptoms has 169 study locations.  

 It is the world’s biggest trial of drugs to treat the coronavirus, which has killed more than 13,000 people in Britain and almost 150,000 globally. it will be run by Oxford University and includes four potential treatments, of which one is hydroxychloroquine


Remdesivir was recently shown to prevent disease and reduce the severity of symptoms in monkeys infected with MERS, an infection closely related to SARS-CoV-2.  

The results, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February, raised hope that it could be effective against the new coronavirus virus.

‘It wasn’t successful in Ebola, but there is some indication that it might be successful in the coronaviruses,’ Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said in a recent interview.

NIAID scientists tested remdesivir in monkeys 24 hours prior to infection with MERS and in other monkeys 12 hours after infection – the time frame in monkeys when the virus is most active. 

They were compared with untreated monkeys in a control group. After six days, all of the untreated animals got sick.

In the monkeys treated prior to infection, the drug appeared to prevent disease. Animals in this group showed no sign of infection, had significantly lower levels of virus in their lungs and no lung damage.

Those treated after infection also fared better than the control group. They had less severe disease, their lungs had lower levels of virus and they had less severe lung damage, researchers found.

Many drugs that succeed in monkeys fail in humans. Nevertheless, the researchers said their findings bolster hopes for the ongoing studies in China and for compassionate use of the drug in severely ill patients.

Hilary Hutton-Squire, vice president and general manager at Gilead Sciences UK and Ireland, said Gilead started research into remdesivir more than a decade ago. 

In animal tests, remdesivir has shown to be ‘quite effective at preventing infection’ and reducing severity of illness and damage to the lungs caused by COVID-19. 

That’s according to Dr Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where research on remdesivir is taking place.

Dr Kuritzkes said: ‘It interferes with the enzyme that reproduces the genetic material of the virus.’

Previously researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, showed in test tube and animal studies that the drug can inhibit the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS.

And it’s been granted a spot in the World Health Organization’s large global trial, called SOLIDARITY, of four drugs. 

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in February began an 800-patient trial that randomly assigns patients to treatment with either remdesivir or a placebo. Those results are not expected until after Gilead’s trial reads out. 

Remdesivir has been provided to several hundred severely ill COVID-19 patients in the US, Europe and Japan under ‘compassionate use’ provisions. 

For example, a young man in Snohomish county in Washington, the first COVID-19 patient in the US, was given remdesivir when his condition worsened.

He improved the next day, according to a case report in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). As of January 30, he had a mild cough. 

But the ‘compassionate use’ program is reportedly being halted due to an unmanageable number of requests, it was revealed on March 22. 

The Dow Jones was up 3.08 per cent as of 4am ET

The Nasdaq was up 1.79 per cent as of 4.45am

The S&P was up 2.50 per cent as of 4.45am

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Trump said the country was ‘in the process of winning’ the war against the coronavirus


British coronavirus patients are set to get the promising Ebola drug remdesivir as part of a trial amid the escalating crisis in the UK.

Remdesivir has been fast-tracked into trials so doctors in hospitals across England and Scotland can administer it for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Gilead, remdesivir was initially hoped to help fight. But it faltered in comparison to others drugs. 

Gilead has initiated two phase 3 randomised studies to evaluate the safety and efficacy of remdesivir in patients with moderate to severe Covid-19. It will be administered via IV.

The trial will involve thousands of people across 15 NHS trusts in London, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Plymouth and more.

Critically, a clinical trial of this size will highlight the true efficacy of remdesivir and any potential side effects.

Shares of Gilead, which closed at $76.54 in regular trading, were up 16 per cent at $89.10 after hours.

Blue-chip futures indexes saw big upward spikes following a flurry of positive signals, setting the stage for a decent day of trading yesterday.

The Dow Jones was up 2.96 per cent, the S&P was up 2.76 per cent and Nasdaq was up 1.97 per cent as of 4.30am ET. 

And Boeing, which floats shares on the Dow, helped drag up the index after it rose 8 per cent overnight after announcing intentions to resume airplane production at its Washington State plant.

But the rises made by the airline were on half that of Gilead, which benefited from a media publications dispatch from the trial laboratory.

FTSE 100 has also kicked in again, up 193 points, and the Europe-wide Stoxx 600 index gained 2.9 per cent.

London’s index of heavyweight shares was up 3.4 per cent at 5,822, just a dozen or so points below its high point of the day.  

Investor confidence was also buoyed by Donald Trump unveiling the White House’s guidance to state governors for easing restrictions and restarting the economy.

At the daily evening press briefing, the President outlined his plan ‘to preserve the health of our citizens we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy’.

Although conceding control of when the lockdown is lifted to individual state governors, he unveiled a three-phase guideline.  

In phase one, schools and organized youth activities are to remain closed, but large venues, including sit-down dining, movie theaters, places of worship and sporting venues can reopen under social distancing protocols. 

Businesses are also encouraged to allow workers to work from home where possible. 

In phase two, telework is encouraged, but where workers return to the office, it’s suggested common areas are closed. 

In this phase, non-essential travel can also resume, bars can reopen and gyms will be allowed to operate.

In phase three, schools and youth activities can reopen, visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume. Worksites can also resume unrestricted staffing of worksites. 



What are the brand versions of the drug?


What does it treat?

Malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It is a less powerful and, by some experts’ accounts, less toxic, version of chloroquine phosphate.

Hydroxychloroquine, sold under the brand name Plaquenil, may treat COVID-19

Who makes it and where has it already been tested?

Drug giant Sanofi carried out a study on 24 patients, which the French government described as ‘promising’. 

French health officials are now planning on a larger trial of the drug, which is used on the NHS. 

What have studies shown?

Results from the French study showed three quarters of patients treated with the drug were cleared of the virus within six days. None of the placebo group were treated. 

How does it work?

It interferes with viral molecules replicating in red blood cells.

Is it being tested in the UK?

Hydroxychloroquine is one of the first drugs to be trialled in the Principle study. It involves high-risk patients in primary care, aged between 50 to 64, who have COVID-19 symptoms and a chronic health condition such as heart disease, asthma or cancer. 

It is unclear how many patients are taking part, and the study will run until March next year. So it will be a while before results are clear.

The study is being at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

Hydroxychloroquine is also thought to be among 1,000 drugs being tested at Queens University Belfast. 

What are its side effects?  

Skin rashes, nausea, diarrhoea and headaches.

What do the experts think?

Chinese scientists investigating the other form of chloroquine penned a letter to a prestigious journal saying its ‘less toxic’ derivative may also help.

In the comment to Cell Discovery – owned by publisher Nature, they said it shares similar chemical structures and mechanisms.

The team of experts added: ‘It is easy to conjure up the idea that hydroxychloroquine may be a potent candidate to treat infection by SARS-CoV-2.’ 


What are the brand versions of the drug?

Kaletra and Aluvia.

What does it treat? 

Lopinavir/ritonavir, marketed under the brand names Kaletra and Aluvia, is an anti-HIV medicine

It is an anti-HIV medicine given to people living with the virus to prevent it developing into AIDS. HIV patients were prescribed either Kaltra or ritonavir alone around 1,400 times in 2018.

Who makes it?

Illinois-based manufacturer AbbVie donated free supplies of the drug to authorities in China, the US and Europe for tests.

What have studies shown? 

Chinese media reported that the drug was successfully used to cure patients with the coronavirus, but the reports have not been scientifically proven.

A separate Chinese study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the lopinavir-ritonavir combination did not improve survival or speed recovery of COVID-19 patients.

However, the authors noted they had enrolled a ‘severely ill population’ of patients.

In a clinical trial submission, scientists in South Korea said lab studies have: ‘In vitro [laboratory] studies revealed that lopinavir/ritonavir [has] antiviral activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).’

How does it work? 

It is a class of drug called a protease inhibitor, which essentially stick to an enzyme on a virus which is vital to the virus reproducing. 

By doing this it blocks the process the virus would normally use to clone itself and spread the infection further.

Is it being tested in the UK?

It is not prescribed on the NHS for coronavirus because it hasn’t been approved – but will be used in the Recovery trial, a massive study run by the University of Oxford for COVID-19 patients already in hospital.

The trial started enrolling patients on March 23, with the aim of reaching COVID-19 patients in more than 150 UK hospitals within two weeks.  

The drug is also being trialled on coronavirus patients in China and at the University of Nebraska.

What are its side effects? 

Known side effects include diarrhea, headaches, upset stomachs, drowsiness, dizziness, a bad taste in the mouth, and trouble sleeping.

What do the experts think?

The drugs have been described as ‘promising’ by experts. But there has been some hesitancy about the drug combination due to the NEJM study. 

Dexamethasone is a steroid drug is used to treat allergies and asthma, as well as some types of cancer


What are the brand versions of the drug?

Ozurdex and Baycadron.  

What does it treat? 

The steroid drug is used to treat allergies and asthma, as well as some types of cancer. 

Who makes it?

Baycadron is made by Wockhardt Usa, Llc, while Ozurdex is made by Allergan, the manufacturer of a commonly used textured breast implant.

What have studies shown? 

No studies have yet to prove dexamethasone can treat SARS-CoV-2 – but it has been tested on patients with MERS and SARS, two different coronaviruses. 

One retrospective study of critically-ill patients with MERS found that almost half of the people that received steroids needed additional treatments such as assistance in breathing, drugs to increase blood pressure, and a form of dialysis. 

Those given steroids were found to take longer to clear the virus from their bodies.

Other studies found that the virus was still present in SARS patients who took the drugs up to three weeks after infection.

How does it work?  

Steroids are often used by doctors to reduce inflammation, which is present in the lungs of patients with the coronavirus.  

However, steroids also impair the immune system’s ability to fight viruses and other infections that often develop in patients with life-threatening illness.

Is it being tested in the UK?

Dexamethasone is one of the drugs being used in the RECOVERY trial launched by the University of Oxford. It will include patients at more than 130 NHS hospitals across the UK.

What are its side effects? 

The drug is known to cause an increase in appetite and heartburn, as well as muscle weakness and insomnia.

What do the experts think?

In a piece in prestigious medical journal The Lancet, three experts warned: ‘No unique reason exists to expect that patients with 2019-nCoV infection will benefit from corticosteroids.

‘And they might be more likely to be harmed with such treatment. 

‘We conclude that corticosteroid treatment should not be used for the treatment of 2019-nCoV-induced lung injury or shock outside of a clinical trial.’

Azithromycin is an antibiotic which has shown signs of promise when used in conjunction with hydroxychloroquine


What are the brand versions of the drug? 

 Z-Pack and Zithromax

What does it treat? 

It’s widely used to treat chest infections such as pneumonia, infections of the nose and throat such as sinus infection (sinusitis), skin infections, Lyme disease, and some sexually transmitted infections.

Azithromycin is used in children, often to treat ear infections or chest infections.

Who makes it? 


What have studies shown?   

Some clinicians have seen limited success in COVID-19 patients when adding it to chloroquine and/or hydroxycholoroquine.

There is little concrete evidence for this however and it remains a controversial topic.  

Last month, big pharma firm Pfizer announced positive data for the use of its azithromycin (Zithromax) drug as a coronavirus treatment.  

Hydroxychloroquine was given to 20 COVID-19 patients, and six also received azithromycin.

The rate of cure was highest in people who received hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, the study reported. 

How does it work? 

The drug itself is an antibiotic and therefore ineffective against viral infections. 

However,  some experts think combining it with the old anti-malaria drugs can improve the prognosis for the sickest patients. 

It is unknown how or if the drug itself can be effective against a virus directly. 

Is it being tested in the UK? 

Azithromycin is one of the four drugs featured in the University of Oxford’s Recovery Trial.

This programme currently ha more than 5,000 participants who are all coronavirus patients currently in British hospitals.  

What are its side effects? 

Common side effects include nausea, diarrhoea or vomiting, losing your appetite, headaches, dizziness or changes to taste.  

More serious side effects which are far rarer include chest pains, yellowing skin/eye whites, tinnitus or vertigo. 

What do the experts think? 

Controversial scientists, such as French doctor Didier Raoult, claim the drug, iwhen used in partnership with hydroxychloroquine can help fight coronavirus. 

However, experts are almost universally of the opinion that the antibiotic on its own will offer no protection from the viral infection.  

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