In a report published Oct. 8 in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers confirmed the benefits of remdesivir for treating people hospitalized for COVID-19.
Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, has emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating anyone hospitalized for COVID-19. That authorization means that doctors can prescribe the intravenous (IV) drug for people who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 and have been hospitalized. While the drug was initially authorized only for those who needed supplemental oxygen or ventilators to breathe, an expanded EUA from the FDA in late August reflects the growing belief among doctors that treating people who aren’t as sick might provide even more benefit—so now includes people with evidence of respiratory infections but don’t yet need supplemental oxygen or help from a ventilator.
Remdesivir works by stymieing the virus’s ability to make more copies of itself, and in trials has helped both patients with early-stage COVID-19 as well as those with more advanced symptoms.
In the latest report, researchers led by a team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provide the final data on a study they first released in May. In the final analysis, which included 1,062 people who were randomly assigned to receive IV remdesivir or a placebo for up to 10 days while in the hospital, the researchers provide more detailed data on how the drug affected metrics including how long people needed to be given supplemental oxygen or put on ventilators. All of the participants showed evidence of respiratory infection, mostly pneumonia, and 85% were considered to have severe disease, which meant that they had at least one of three symptoms: their blood oxygen levels were below 94% while breathing room air; they required supplemental oxygen; or they needed a ventilator to breathe. Among all the participants—both with severe COVID-19 and with more mild symptoms—those given remdesivir were able to be discharged from the hospital on average five days sooner than those receiving placebo.
The only challenge for now is that remdesivir is an IV drug, and the logistics of managing IV infusions for people who aren’t hospitalized could limit its use. But the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead, says it is testing on an inhaled version of the drug that would be easier for patients to take.
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