A clinical trial of 1,063 COVID-19 patients found that those who took the antiviral drug remdesivir were more likely to recover from the disease, and recover faster, than other patients who received a non-beneficial but harmless pill.
The study found patients receiving remdesivir recovered 31% faster than those who received the placebo.
As early as next week, Froedtert Hospital will begin to give the drug to 10 severely ill COVID-19 patients who meet a very specific criteria set by manufacturer Gilead Sciences.
“I am encouraged by it,” said Mary Beth Graham, associate chief of the division of infectious disease at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Dan Shirley, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases at UW Health in Madison, read the preliminary results and said, “they seem to be very positive.” Shirley said the drug was a logical choice because it had shown benefits in a lab dish against other coronaviruses.
The news about remdesivir comes days after researchers discussed encouraging early results from the use of plasma from COVID-19 patients to treat those sick with the disease. So far more than 2,600 COVID-19 patients across the U.S. have been treated with plasma, and doctors say they have encountered no safety problems.
Graham, who is also the medical director of infection prevention and control at Froedtert, stressed that the two treatments use very different approaches.
Remdesivir attacks the virus that causes COVID-19, preventing it from making copies of itself and spreading.
Plasma from COVID-19 survivors doesn’t attack the virus directly, but instead gives a patient an immediate infusion of antibodies to help the body’s immune system defend against the virus.
The difference is comparable to the way a traditional flu vaccine provides a direct immune boost. It is still possible a person may get the flu even after receiving the vaccine. If that happens, patients are given medications like Tamiflu and Relenza, both of which attack the influenza virus.
Froedtert is already providing survivor plasma to some COVID-19 patients.
Graham said the hospital will now be able to give remdesivir to 10 patients, all of whom must be on ventilators, but not be in liver failure or kidney failure.
The 10 patients will be given the antiviral drug as part of Gilead’s expanded use program.
Expanded use allows pharmaceutical companies to give a drug to patients before it has been made commercially available. The primary purpose is to allow monitoring or treatment of patients with a life-threatening condition.
Graham said that it may turn out, as more drugs are tested, that some are better than others at different stages of COVID-19.
“There’s never one silver bullet,” she stressed.
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