Gilead’s experimental drug remdesivir may be the first effective coronavirus treatment, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Wednesday.
New results from a clinical trial conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases establish the drug as the standard of care for Covid-19, which has killed 50,000 people in the U.S. so far, said agency Director Anthony Fauci. He likened the good news about remdesivir to the discovery of the first medication found to help treat HIV more than three decades ago.
“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recover,” Fauci told reporters hours after Gilead said promising data was incoming from NIAID’s sweeping trial, which involved 1,063 patients.
The vaccine expert cautioned that the drug was not a complete “knockout” in the study — the first randomized clinical trial to deliver results on a potential coronavirus drug. But he said the findings are significant because “what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”
President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly touted unproven coronavirus drugs at White House briefings, was more upbeat about the trial results. “It’s a very positive event,” he said.
Trial participants who received remdesivir recovered in an average of 11 days compared with 15 days for patients in the control group, who received a placebo. Eight percent of remdesivir patients died during the trial versus 11 percent in the placebo group.
The death rate is just slightly lower in the remdesivir group, but more data remains to be analyzed, Fauci said. But the scientist, who has led NIAID since 1984, said the news reminded him of the day 34 years ago when modest results for the drug AZT signaled the first potential weapon against HIV.
“That was not the end game, because building on that every year after we did better and better, we had better drugs of the same type, and we had drugs against different targets,” Fauci said.