A new large study shows the COVID-19 patients who took the drug remdesivir have recovered faster than other people who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. With the positive results, experts expect the medication to become a game changer in the fight against the disease.
Researchers said remdesivir could cut recovery time to an average of 11 days compared with other treatments. Patients who took a placebo in the study continued to show symptoms of COVID-19 for 15 days, Live Science reported Wednesday.
“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told NBC News. “Although a 31 percent improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout 100 percent, it is a very important proof of concept. What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”
NIAID provided funding to the study to test remdesivir. Researchers analyzed the effects of the drug with nearly 1,090 people from different countries, including Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
Fauci said the initial test focused on the patients’ recovery time or “ability to be discharged” from the hospital. The patients in the remdesivir group had a lower mortality rate compared with placebo.
Manufacturer Gilead Sciences originally created remdesivir to treat patients with Ebola. In earlier animal studies, the drug appeared effective to treat both severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which both are caused by coronaviruses.
Tests in the lab showed remdesivir was able stop the virus that causes COVID-19 to replicate in a dish. The drug also had positive effects that prevented the novel coronavirus from infecting monkeys.
Different research teams then launched several studies to further understand how remdesivir fights COVID-19. Some small studies suggested it could reduce COVID-19 symptoms, including fever and breathing difficulties.
Fauci explained that the drug potentially blocks the enzyme called RNA polymerase, which the virus uses to make copies of its genetic material in the cell. NIAID plans to continue testing the potential COVID-19 treatment.
Future efforts would focus on combining remdesivir with other drugs, including anti-inflammatory treatments, to see if it could boost its positive effects. Fauci said the findings of the latest international study will serve “the standard of care” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.