By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
Remdesivir is the first drug proven capable of helping patients fight COVID-19. The clinical trial by the National Institutes of Health shows the antiviral IV drug accelerates recovery of advanced COVID-19 patients. Sarah George, MD, is an associate professor of infectious diseases and principal investigator of the trial site at the Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development.
“This is the first time we’ve had something that we know works against this virus,” said George.
Known as the experimental drug for treating Ebola, remdesivir is now standard of care for treating COVID-19 after the preliminary data analysis from a randomized, controlled trial involving 1063 patients at 68 sites worldwide.
Participating COVID-19 patients at SSM Saint Louis University Hospital were part of the trial. Data from study compares hospitalized patients given remdesivir to those who received a placebo. Patients treated with remdesivir had a 31% faster recovery than those without, cutting down the median recovery time from 15 day to 11 days. Results also suggested a survival benefit, with a mortality rate of 8.0% for the group receiving remdesivir versus 11.6% for the placebo group. The FDA immediately issued emergency use authorization for the distribution of remdesivir to health care providers.
While George believes the drug may save lives, it’s not a home run.
“It’s not perfect. People still did die in that study, which is to be expected with such a severe disease,” said George. “It’s just that death rates were certainly lower and time to recovery was lower, so there’s certainly room for improvement.”
Now scientists are looking to test other drugs with remdesivir in hopes of a potent drug combo that fights coronavirus. St. Louis University is part of the next iteration of the trial supported by the National Institutes of Health. The SLU team is taking part in the randomized, controlled clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of a treatment regimen of remdesivir plus the rheumatoid arthritis drug, baricitinib, in this new antiviral and anti-inflammatory approach to treatment.
“It’s actually an immune modulator that’s approved for use in rheumatoid arthritis,” explained George. “There is some anecdotal but promising data coming out of Italy which is the reason to study it.”
Participating COVID-19 patients either receive Eli Lilly’s immunology drug Olumiant (baricitinib) or they are given a placebo. But all patients receive Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir.
“They won’t know whether or not they’re getting the other drug,” explained George. “Let’s see if adding another drug gives an additional benefit.”