Mustafa Ali Noor
On April 16, good news came from a clinical trial of the coronavirus medicine at the University of Chicago. According to report, the antiviral Remdesivir appeared to have some fighting force against coronavirus. The trial included 125 people, 113 of them classified as having a severe case of the virus.
All got the drug; there was no placebo group. Most were released from the hospital less than a week later, and only 2 died – an unusually low number given how deadly the disease has been in those who get severely ill. Other trials around the world, if they go this well, should lead to quick FDA approval for the drug, manufactured by Gilead Sciences.
It is also learnt, long before the current coronavirus pandemic, scientists at the University of North Carolina and Gilead began developing this drug in anticipation of new coronavirus epidemic. Two other deadly outbreaks that occurred this century, SARS and MERS, were both caused by coronaviruses from bats, as with Covid-19.
According to Bloomberg, one of the developers of the drug, Timothy Sheahan of the University of North Carolina told a journalist that the drug was designed to interfere with enzyme SARS and MERS need to replicate themselves. At the time, his group had just started to see impressive results in animal studies of MERS.
The only human trials before the current outbreak were in Ebola patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While it didn’t work against Ebola as well as other therapies, it did pass basic safety standards.
The drug has been given sporadically for Covid-19. Anecdotal reports abound of people near death bouncing back after getting the drug. And even this clinical trial has to be viewed with cautious optimism, since it was small, and wasn’t compared with a placebo. But more trials are underway around the world – including 2,400 participants with severe disease and 1,600 patients whose symptoms are moderate.