An experimental drug has proved effective against the new coronavirus in a major study, shortening the time it takes for patients to recover by four days on average, U.S. government and company officials announced Wednesday.
Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir is the first treatment to pass such a strict test against the virus, which has killed more than 218,000 people since it emerged late last year in China. Having a treatment could have a profound effect on the global pandemic, especially because health officials say any vaccine is likely a year or more away.
The study, run by the National Institutes of Health, tested remdesivir versus usual care in 1,063 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world. At the White House, NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci said the drug reduced the time it takes patients to recover by 31% — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those just given usual care.
He also said there was a trend toward fewer deaths among those on remdesivir, and that full results would soon be published in a medical journal.
“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said. “This will be the standard of care.”
A statement from the Food and Drug Administration says that the agency has been talking with California-based Gilead “regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate.”
Remdesivir is among many treatments being tested against the coronavirus but was the farthest along in study.
“We are excited and optimistic,” said one expert, Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Mark Denison. His lab first tested remdesivir against other coronaviruses in 2013 and has done much research on it since, but was not involved in the NIH study.
“It’s active against every coronavirus that we’ve ever tested,” he said. “It was very hard for the virus to develop resistance to remdesivir. That means the drug would likely be effective over longer term use.”
The company also said no new safety problems emerged in that study, and that it would publish results in a medical journal soon.