PHN Explores: Antiviral drug Remdesivir shows promise for treating coronavirus in NIH study (From NPR)

PHN Content By Mat Edelson

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If We Had Written the Headline

Covid-19 patients recover nearly a third faster in large government antiviral drug study

Why You Should Care

Dr. Fauci’s institute sponsored this study. He says he’s optimistic about this drug’s potential impact on Covid-19. That makes us optimistic, because from what we’ve seen, Dr. Fauci doesn’t exaggerate.

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What's New(s)

In every study of this kind, there are sick people who don’t get the drug (the so-called “control group”) and those that do. This study of more than 1000 patients with Covid-19 was going so well that the Institutional Review Board (aka, IRB) overseeing the study took the rare step of stopping it midway. Why? Because, as this NPR story notes, the drug, Remdesivir, appeared so effective in reducing complete recovery time that the IRB felt it would be unethical if the sick control group wasn’t also given the drug immediately.

If you want the numbers that prompted the IRB’s decision, here’s the key point: Half of the people given Remdesivir were completely recovered in 11 days or less. By contrast, it took half the control group (no drug) 15 days or less to completely recover. That four day difference convinced the IRB to allow the control group quick access to the drug.

Since there were no previous treatments for Covid-19 patients, Dr. Fauci says Remdesivir now sets the bar for studies looking at other drugs. In essence, for those drugs to surpass Remdesivir as first-line treatments, they’ll have to prove they are better than Remdesivir, either because they’ll be more effective, have less side effects, or some other factor.

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Story Source

NPR, April 29, 2020, by Laurel Wamsley. See the story

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Story Expert

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health

Bonus Biscuit

Here’s Dr. Fauci speaking at the White House about the study and the drug’s potential impact on the novel coronavirus crisis. He gives an excellent comparison between the current fight against the coronavirus versus how researchers, including himself, took on the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Fauci notes how Remdesivir reminds him of the discovery of AZT, the first drug shown to slow down HIV. AZT became part of the initial drug “cocktail” created for HIV+ patients. So even though Remdesivir doesn’t completely stop Covid-19, it could be the first step in creating a combination drug regime that keeps the novel coronarivus from causing serious illness.

(Video source: Bloomberg News)

Related Stories

We’ve included two stories here, both from STAT (a Boston Globe Media science and health reporting site) The first STAT story covers the study. The second is an April 30 follow-up story covering the challenges facing the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead, as they gear up for worldwide demand.

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Deep Dive

If you’re interested in the scientific details of the trial, it’s listed here at www.clinicaltrials.gov