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What We Know About Remdesivir, the Antiviral Drug Dr. Fauci Says 'Can Block This Virus'

Fauci compared finding remdesivir to finding AZT, a drug that proved crucial for treating AIDS.
April 29, 2020, 8:06pm
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 9, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens.

There’s still no cure for COVID-19, but Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks we might finally have a treatment for it.

An antiviral drug remdesivir, which was developed in 2015 to treat Ebola, appears to be helping coronavirus patients get better. The National Institutes of Health ran a study in which the drug was given to more than 1,000 patients sick with COVID-19 and found it shortened patients’ illnesses by about 31%, according to preliminary data released Wednesday.

“This will be the standard of care,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a prominent member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday, discussing the NIH study results. “What it has proven is a drug can block this virus.”

It’s a promising sign in the fight against the highly contagious novel coronavirus that’s sweeping the globe. There are more than 3 million confirmed cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease around the world, and it’s killed at least 220,000 people so far.

“When I was looking at this data with our team the other night, it was reminiscent of 34 years ago, in 1986, when we were struggling for drugs for HIV, and we had nothing,” Fauci said. He compared finding remdesivir to finding AZT, a drug that proved crucial for treating AIDS.

“This drug happens to be blocking an enzyme that the virus uses,” Fauci added. He said the evidence was “clear-cut” that the drug is significantly improving patients’ outcomes. The drug didn’t perform well in trials on Ebola patients, however.

Gilead, the major pharma company that makes remdesivir, hasn’t yet said whether it would seek approval for the drug as a treatment for the coronavirus. Trading was halted on the company’s stocks before markets opened Wednesday, and the markets ticked up throughout the day, buoyed by the hope that the drug might offer a path toward lifting lockdowns and ramping up economic activity.

The company also released preliminary results of its own study, which showed that the drug helped COVID-19 patients, and that the efficacy of the drug was the same for patients who took the drug for five days as it was for patients who took it for ten.

But another study was less hopeful. The drug was given to severely ill patients in China, and seemed not to help much. The urgency of the coronavirus has led to rushed research being published — there weren’t enough severely ill patients in China to enroll in the study for the researchers to consider it complete.

Though the drug shows some promise, scientists are wary to consider it a solution to the pandemic.

“Remdesivir appears not to be a magic bullet,” Dr. Michele Barry, an infectious disease expert at Stanford, told the New York Times.

And even the National Institutes of Health study found that 8 percent of patients died on remdesivir; 11 percent of patients taking a placebo died.

President Donald Trump had said a few weeks ago without evidence that the drug was a potential “game changer.” He’s scheduled to make an address later Wednesday afternoon, during which he’s expected to talk about remdesevir.

This isn’t the only drug that researchers are examining as a potential treatment for the coronavirus. Doctors have also quietly started testing famotidine, the active ingredient in Pepcid, an over-the-counter heartburn drug, on COVID-19 patients in New York, after hearing anecdotal reports that it’s helped people get better.

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Cover: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 9, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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