What You Need to Know About Remdesivir, the Potential Coronavirus Drug
Doctors say it’s too soon for enthusiasm, and patients’ families are frustrated by the distribution of the drug
There’s promising first data on the effectiveness of the experimental drug remdesivir to treat Covid-19. Published Friday, April 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine, 36 out of 53 patients (68%) who received the drug showed signs of improvement, 25 of whom were eventually sent home. Seven people (13%) died. Of the 30 people who were on ventilators in the study, 57% were able to come off oxygen support.
For comparison, studies from China and the U.K. report that 86% and 66%, respectively, of Covid-19 patients who didn’t receive remdesivir died after being put on a ventilator.
Physicians involved in the remdesivir research say they are encouraged by the results, but they caution that the findings are preliminary. Most glaring, the data were not part of a clinical trial but come from compassionate use of the drug, which means there was no placebo arm to compare people who received it with those who did not. As a result, it is impossible to know whether the patients would have recovered at a similar rate without the medication. Several clinical trials are currently ongoing to provide this data.
“What we showed is there was some benefit, but we can’t really quantify it,” says Gary Green, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Sutter Santa Rosa Medical Hospital who treated two patients included in the analysis. “It was effective in vitro, and now we know it’s effective in vivo, but we can’t say how effective because we need to study it in a more tightly controlled manner.”
Other physicians who weren’t involved in the research aren’t as impressed with the findings and say the publication is premature. “These results are uninterpretable in the absence of a comparative control arm,” says Ilan Schwartz, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alberta in the division of infectious diseases. “We have no way of knowing whether the outcomes reported in this study, good or bad, have anything to do with the drug.”