New Experimental Coronavirus Drug Showing Early Promise, Researchers Say
UKRAINE - 2020/04/06: In this photo illustration, a vial labelled as Coronavirus vaccine and a syringe seen displayed as the world anxiously awaits for the vaccine against coronavirus. (Photo Illustration by
Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A new experimental COVID-19 treatment called remdesivir has reportedly been shown to be effective against SARS-Cov-2, a new research study finds.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was supported by the developer of remdesivir, Gilead Sciences, and compiled data on the tests with a specific group of patients.

“These are patients who received treatment through the compassionate use program for remdesivir, which is for critically ill patients who are unable to take part in a clinical trial,” said Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day in a letter released Friday. “The results, which cover 53 of the first patients to have been treated in the program, show that the majority demonstrated clinical improvement after taking remdesivir.”

But the company said the small study is not conclusive.

“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. 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,” the letter said.

More studies of the drug are planned.

“In studying remdesivir, the question is not just whether it is safe and effective against COVID-19, but in which patients it shows activity, how long should they receive treatment, and at what stage of their disease would treatment be most beneficial. Many answers are needed, which is why we need multiple types of studies involving many types of patients,” O’Day said in the letter.

Another treatment for COVID-19 that has already been approved in the U.S. reportedly helped a test group of infected patients get better in one to three days, a recent study has found.

Known as convalescent plasma (CP) therapy, the treatment uses blood from recovered patients. Ten COVID-19 patients in China who were severely ill were given a dose of plasma donated from survivors of the virus, which had the antibodies necessary for their immune system to fight off the virus.

“All symptoms in the 10 patients, especially fever, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain, disappeared or largely improved within 1 [day] to 3 [days] upon CP transfusion,” said the study, published in a respected journal called the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

The study was conducted in Wuhan, China – where the coronavirus emerged in December – and was led by Kai Duan of China’s National Biotec Group Co. Ltd.

The therapy is not new. It was first used a century ago during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. The process is approved in the U.S., and many physicians think it can help those already infected with SARS-CoV-2. A vaccine is 12-18 months away, most experts say, but the CP therapy is cheap and readily available as it simply uses blood from those infected and recovered. CP therapy has also been used to battle SARS and MERS, two similar coronaviruses, and Ebola.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already begun preliminary studies to try to find out how many Americans have already been infected with the virus.

“The first, which has already begun, will be looking at blood samples from people never diagnosed as a case in some of the nation’s Covid-19 hot spots, to see how widely the virus circulated,” STAT reported on Saturday. “Later, a national survey, using samples from different parts of the country, will be conducted. A third will look at special populations — health care workers are a top priority — to see how widely the virus has spread within them. Bresee said the CDC hopes to start the national survey in the summer; he gave no timeline for the health workers study.”

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