BioCryst Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:BCRX) has started a clinical trial to test its antiviral medication galidesivir in patients with COVID-19. The U.S. government's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, is funding the clinical trial.

Galidesivir was originally developed for the treatment of Marburg virus disease and potentially to treat other filoviruses, including Ebola. But the drug has been shown to inhibit more than 20 RNA viruses in nine different families, including the coronaviruses that cause Middle East respiratory syndrome (MARS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The drug works by blocking the synthesis of the RNA in the viruses.

Patient and her doctors in a restricted area

Image source: Getty Images.

The clinical trial, which is being run in Brazil, will measure how long it takes for patients to improve, how quickly patients are discharged from the hospital, and the time it takes to have undetectable levels of the virus. Mortality will also be measured.

Patients will be treated for seven days and followed for a total of 56 days, so BioCryst should be able to generate data fairly quickly. The clinical trial includes a subset of patients who will get a placebo, so investors will get some idea of how much the drug is actually helping patients. But it's a relatively small study, just 24 patients in the dose-finding part of the study and then up to 42 patients in the second part of the study. So it may be hard to reach statistical significance, and a larger clinical trial may be needed before BioCryst can get the drug approved by regulators.