A lab technician visually inspects a filled vial of investigational coronavirus disease treatment drug remdesivir at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, California, US. (Gilead Sciences Inc/Handout via Reuters)
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A sliver of hope ran through a nation ravaged by a new virus and shuttered at home after a top US government scientist announced Wednesday that data from ongoing federal trials demonstrated that an antiviral drug can significantly shorten the duration of the illness and hasten recovery from coronavirus.
News reports indicated the US Food and Drug Administration could fast-track the approval process to make this medicine, remdesivir by Gilead, available widely.
“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Anthony Fauci, a top epidemiologist and member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task-force told reporters, prefacing the announcement as “quite good news”.
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The trial, which was conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that Fauci leads, showed “a drug can block the virus”, Fauci added and described it as “a new standard of care” for treating Covid-19.
The top epidemiologist, who has become the most trusted member of the task force, compared the development to the trial 36 years ago in 1986 that led to the HIV antiviral AZT, a drug that had then shown only “modest” efficacy but became the base for better and more improved treatments over the years.
Remdesivir is not a vaccine and cannot prevent Covid-19. It can treat Covid-19 better than any other drug around now.
It could not be immediately ascertained if remdesivir will be available in India at the same time as in the US and some countries in Europe.
But industry experts have speculated in recent days that any company that finds a cure or vaccine to the virus that has infected millions around the world and killed upwards of 200,000 people may have to look to countries with established production capabilities to produce enough for not any single country but beyond.
Early data about the efficacy of the drug, as revealed by Fauci, show that in randomized placebo-controlled trials (in which some patients are administered the drug and others are given inactive mock alternatives, with neither cohort aware of what they are getting) spanning multiple countries, mortality was lower among remdesivir recipients by 8% to placebo’s 11%, and the recovery periods were 11 days to 14 for the two cohorts.
The second data point was the more important of the two, according to medical experts. “The primary endpoint was the time to recover — namely, the ability to be discharged,” Fauci said while announcing the “good news”.
And it was celebrated thus across the country from the White House, where President Trump happily acknowledged it as much as he let Fauci do the explaining. Investor interest perked as well despite dismal projections all around of an economy shrinking at a far greater rate than since 2008.
Most TV and radio news outfits kicked off their programmes Wednesday with the “good news” about remdesivir even as they went on to urge caution.
Americans have grown skeptical about claims of touted cures — the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine and even some household disinfectants — as the epidemic has continued to cross new and grimmer milestones.