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Mixed Results for Gilead Sciences' COVID-19 Treatment

By Cory Renauer - May 23, 2020 at 10:03AM

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Remdesivir helped patients recover faster, but the experimental coronavirus treatment didn't lower patients' risk of death.

Late on Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, a leading medical journal published results from a government-sponsored clinical trial with the experimental coronavirus treatment, remdesivir. The blinded, randomized study showed clear evidence that treatment with Gilead Sciences' (GILD -0.03%) experimental antiviral drug helped patients recover faster, but investigators from the National Institute of Allery and Infectious Disease (NIAID) couldn't find clear evidence of a survival benefit.

Good news and bad news

Remdesivir's main goal in the NIAID study was shortened time to recovery and Gilead's antiviral candidate clearly hit the mark. A majority of patients treated with remdesivir recovered in 11 days or less compared to a median recovery time of 15 days for patients given a placebo.

Physician with a clipboard in an ICU

Image source: Getty Images.

There were 32 deaths in the 538-patient remdesivir group and 54 deaths among 521 patients given a placebo. Unfortunately, this numerical benefit wasn't strong enough to be considered statistically significant.

Don't touch that dial

Antiviral drugs make it hard for viruses to reproduce, which makes them generally more effective when used to treat patients in the early stages of infections like COVID-19. This is probably why remdesivir looked highly effective when used to treat hospitalized patients that require supplemental oxygen, but ineffective when treatment didn't begin until patients had already progressed to more severe stages of the disease. 

To see if remdesivir truly can reduce the risk of death from COVID-19, Gilead Sciences is running a study called Simple-Severe that is specifically enrolling a population of patients that require oxygen but not ventilation. The company expects to publish the Simple-Severe data in the near future but hasn't provided further details regarding the trial's progress.

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