PHN Explores: Two-Thirds of severe Covid-19 cases improved on Gilead drug (From Bloomberg News)

PHN Content By Mat Edelson


If We Had Written the Headline

Small study including 22 U.S. patients found two-thirds of severe Covid-19 cases improved on antiviral drug, but many questions remain.

Why You Should Care

The concern with the study, lead by California researchers, is that everyone got the drug, called Remdesivir. Without a control group, there’s no way to tell how patients would have fared without the drug. Would they have recovered just as well? This is crucial information to discover, since the study found 23 percent of patients given Remdesivir had “serious adverse events” including “acute kidney injury” and “multiple-organ-dysfunction syndrome.”


What's New(s)

This is one of the first published findings on Remdesivir use with Covid-19 patients. As this Bloomberg News story notes, several additional human trials are underway. These include one involving 6000 patients with severe cases of Covid-19, and 1600 with moderate cases of Covid-19 (source:, the U.S. Government’s database of current and past clinical trials).


Story Source

Bloomberg News, 4/11/20, by Michelle Fay Cortez, Robert Langreth, and Jason Gale. See the story


Story Expert

Dr. Jonathan Grein, director of hospital epidemiology, Cedars Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles)

Bonus Biscuit

If you’re wondering why researchers are so interested in trying Remdesivir against Covid-19, consider its history. It is an antiviral drug, first tried with humans during the 2015 West African Ebola virus outbreak. Those trials were eventually stopped because other drugs proved more effective. But more recently, researchers wondered if Remdesivir would work against coronaviruses from previous pandemics. Turns out it did, but no testing was done on humans: In 2017, a team of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt researchers found the drug slowed the replication of the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus in mice. A follow-up study by the same group this past January found similar antiviral potential in mice infected with MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

Bonus Bonus Biscuit

Case # 1 of coronavirus in the U.S. was a 35 year-old man, recently returned from Wuhan, China (the outbreak’s epicenter), who showed up at a Washington state urgent care clinic on January 19th. He was hospitalized, treated for pneumonia with Remdesivir and other drugs, and reportedly discharged and back home as of February 3rd. (Sources: New England Journal of Medicine,  and NBC News )


Deep Dive

From The Scientist: Remdesivir works against coronaviruses in the lab, Mar 20, 2020, by Abby Olena

Here’s the 2017 UNC/Vanderbilt team study: From the journal Science Translational Medicine
Broad-spectrum antiviral GS-5734 (Remdesivir) inhibits both epidemic and zoonotic coronaviruses

Here’s the UNC/Vanderbilt team’s January 2020 study: An article from the journal Nature Communications:
Comparative therapeutic efficacy of remdesivir and combination lopinavir, ritonavir, and interferon beta against MERS-CoV

Here’s the just completed Cedars Sinai (CA) lead study: From the New England Journal of Medicine:
Compassionate use of Remdesivir for patients with severe Covid-19

Study Disclosure: The Cedars Sinai study was funded by the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead Sciences.

Here’s an unpublished Remdesivir study we don’t know what to make of: Its contents were accidentally revealed by the WHO, then taken down off the WHO’s website, but not before the online science news site STAT got a look: