Stock markets fell today after a promising drug that experts hoped would become a revolutionary treatment for failed coronavirus in its first key trial.
The UK’s largest corporate FTSE 100 index fell 86 points or 1.48 percent to 5,740 this morning – the Dow Jones also declined slightly.
Investors had high hopes that remdesivir – an antiviral drug originally developed for Ebola – would prove to be an effective treatment for COVID-19.
But that optimism was overturned last night when a larger study – the first randomized clinical trial for the drug – showed that it had no impact on the disease.
Draft documents accidentally released by the World Health Organization have shown that they do not improve the condition of patients or even reduce the levels of viruses in the blood.
According to the manuscript, the drug also caused significant side effects, which means that 18 of the 158 patients had to be withdrawn from treatment.
Gilead, based in California, said the results were inconclusive because the study was halted early, but investors said the market was “shaken.”
And he insisted that the study was dropped because it only recruited 237 participants and was “undernourished to allow statistically significant conclusions.”
Questions were asked today about three other promising drugs, including one presented by US President Donald Trump as a “game changer”.
Experts have found that the death rate was twice as high in patients receiving hydroxychloroquine – under the name Plaquenil, compared to those who received no medication.
Two other drugs, lopinavir / ritonavir for HIV and an antiviral drug called Arbidol, had no effect on hospital patients, according to a separate study.
The FTSE 100 index fell today after about 15 roller coasters, as shown above
A bottle of the drug Remdesivir is seen at a press conference in Hamburg, Germany, April 8
Gilead Sciences headquarters is pictured in Foster City, California on April 17
REMDESIVIR PREVENTS SEA CORONAVIRUS IN APES
Remdesivir has recently been shown to be effective in preventing disease and reducing the severity of symptoms in monkeys infected with MERS, an infection closely linked to SARS-CoV-2.
The results, reported in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings in February, raised hopes that it might be effective against the new coronavirus.
“It has not been successful with Ebola, but there are signs that it may be successful in coronaviruses,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the United States National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in a recent interview.
NIAID scientists tested remdesivir in monkeys 24 hours before infection with MERS and in other monkeys 12 hours after infection – the period of time in monkeys when the virus is most active.
They were compared to untreated monkeys in a control group. After six days, all the untreated animals fell ill.
In monkeys treated before infection, the drug appeared to prevent disease. The animals in this group showed no signs of infection, had significantly lower virus levels in their lungs, and no lung damage.
Those treated after infection were also more successful than the control group. The researchers found that they had less serious illness, that their lungs had lower virus levels, and that they had less severe lung damage.
Many successful drugs in monkeys fail in humans.
Nevertheless, the researchers said their results raise hopes for ongoing studies in China and for compassionate use of the drug in critically ill patients.
The market’s sensitivity to news related to a COVID-19 cure reflected traders’ desperation to know when the global economy could start to return to normal.
Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at New York-based wealth management company Inverness Counsel, said, “Any bad news is likely to shake the market.
“Investors want a semblance of hope that they will be able to get out of their homes soon and resume a normal life, even with apprehension and fear. “
US equity futures fell 0.7% this morning after the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq went negative at the close yesterday.
François Savary, chief investment officer of Prime Partners, said: “This is a negative session. The market last week was in consolidation after a strong recovery.
“Much good news has already been announced, and the news that the death toll has increased in the United States has also been a wake-up call for investors. “
Gilead’s shares fell more than 4% after the data was inadvertently released and first reported by the Financial Times.
No drug has yet been proven to treat COVID-19, and scientists are in a desperate race against time to find a vaccine that works.
Doctors are in desperate need of everything that can change the course of the disease, which has infected more than 2.7 million people worldwide.
Remdesivir was put in the spotlight in January when the WHO classified it as “the most promising candidate” for treatment with COVID-19.
Tests have shown that the drug can fight SARS and MERS, cousins of the new coronavirus, in the laboratory and in animals.
But the new results have dealt a blow to the hopes of scientists who want to see their COVID-19 arsenal strengthened.
A screenshot of the WHO publication, captured by STAT News, indicated that the trial recruited 237 patients with 158 receiving remdesivir versus 79 receiving placebo.
The death rate was similar at 13.9 percent for remdesivir, compared to 12.8 percent in the control group – suggesting that the drug made little difference.
The outcome document is currently undergoing peer review – the process by which scientists can carefully review the work of their academic colleagues and highlight critical gaps.
A WHO spokesperson said the UN agency was awaiting a “final version” before commenting on the data.
STAT reports that, according to the study summary in China, remdesivir was “not associated with a time difference between clinical improvement”.
Gilead disputed reports that remdesivir did not help patients with severe cases of the new coronavirus, scientifically known as SARS-CoV-2.
He said the WHO post included inappropriate characterizations from the study, which was terminated early due to the low enrollment rate.
“We regret that WHO released information about the study prematurely, which has since been deleted,” a spokesman for CNBC said.
They also added that investigators from the study did not authorize the publication of the results. It is unknown who led the trial.
Gilead also said that the trends in the data suggest a potential benefit for remdesivir, “especially in patients treated at the onset of the disease.”
Although Gilead said the results were inconclusive, some financial analysts nevertheless drew conclusions.
Steven Seedhouse of Raymond James said the data “will guide the prevailing view” that remdesivir “does not work” in critically ill patients.
Doctors have hypothesized that an antiviral drug like remdesivir would likely be most effective when given as early as possible during illness.
Remdesivir is an antiviral medication that works by paralyzing the RNA polymerase enzyme, preventing a virus from reproducing in the blood.
The statue of “Fearless Girl” wears a facial mask with American flags outside the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street yesterday
WHAT IS REMDESIVIR?
Remdesivir was developed about 10 years ago to destroy the Ebola virus. He was however sidelined when other better candidates emerged.
It is manufactured by the California pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, the company behind the life-changing anti-HIV pill, Truvada, or PrEP. Because it is only an investigational drug, it has no name on the market.
Laboratory tests for remdesivir have shown promise against coronaviruses – but human trials are still in their infancy.
Doctors in the United States have tried it on patients and it has accelerated recovery from the first person treated for the virus.
The 35-year-old man in Washington State near Seattle – whose infection was announced on January 20 – recovered after receiving the drug.
A California woman who doctors say is going to die, also recovered in the United States after receiving the drug.
Four American passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship treated with drugs in Japan also recovered.
Officials in Liguria – a coastal region of Italy – also said that an infected 70-year-old man has recovered and may return home after 12 days in hospital.
It is not prescribed on the NHS because it has not been approved.
Hundreds of patients – including some in the UK – participating in a European mega-trial will have the chance to take the drug to prove if it can fight coronavirus.
The drug is also being tested on patients with coronaviruses in China and at the University of Nebraska.
Scientists are hopeful because the drug has been proven to be safe for humans. But its side effects are still not well understood.
Professor Devi Sridhar, president of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, hailed the remdesivir as “one of the most promising antivirals” under investigation.
While Dr. Alfredo Garzino-Demo, of the University of Maryland medical school, said the evidence shows that he has the ability to treat COVID-19 patients.