COVID-19 update: investigational drug shows potential for coronavirus

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Initial research shows that an experimental treatment for coronavirus can help very sick patients improve their breathing, although experts warn that more studies are needed before the drug, remdesivir, can be recommended.

The research, published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 53 coronavirus patients who had received remdesivir through what is known as “compassionate use.”

In the majority of patients – 68% – doctors were able to reduce the amount of oxygen support needed. In addition, 17 of the 30 patients who had been ventilated were able to get out of these machines. This is important because COVID-19 patients who need to be ventilated appear to be more likely to suffer from long-term health consequences and may have worse results.

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“If you use a fan, there is only about a 20% chance that you will remove it,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said last week. “The longer you stay on the fan, the less likely you are to come off. “

The new research had several important caveats. It was a small study, and its authors did not compare their patients’ results with a control group to know for sure whether the improvements were really due to remdesivir, or whether they would have improved by themselves, without treatment. .

Infectious disease experts have been cautious but optimistic in interpreting the results.

President Donald Trump on Sunday again promoted the use of a malaria drug to fight coronavirus, although he has not undergone clinical trials to treat the disease caused by the virus, COVID -19.

“I would say this is incremental and potentially positive data in the journey to understand which antivirals will be most useful,” said Dr. Greg Poland, infectious disease expert and director of the Mayo Clinic vaccine research group. in Rochester. , Minnesota.

Remdesivir is an antiviral therapy, which is believed to work by preventing the virus from replicating in the body. The new study, however, did not provide any information as to whether the drug actually works by reducing the virus levels in patients’ bodies.

Previous animal research has shown that the drug, developed by Gilead Sciences, can treat MERS, another type of coronavirus. It has also been widely promoted as a potential treatment for Ebola, but has shown no significant benefit.

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Then came COVID-19, which has made nearly half a million people sick in the United States. Remdesivir has been used as experimental therapy for the first person in the United States diagnosed with the disease, and appears to have helped this patient. It was given to other very sick patients out of compassion, which means that no other proven therapy was available.

Mild to moderate abnormalities in liver function have been noted as a side effect in new research on remdesivir. But it is not known whether these problems are the result of the drug or of the disease itself.

Meanwhile, Gilead, who participated in the latest research, has started enrolling up to 1,000 patients for more robust clinical trials of remdesivir.

“We will not have definitive information until we have a controlled trial,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. Neither Schaffner nor Poland was involved in the new research.

However, the results remain promising for the coronavirus which, so far, has no proven cure or treatment.

“If you told me,” Let’s say you had a serious case and you had the choice of having a clinical trial of remdesivir, would you do it? “” Said Poland. “My answer is yes. “

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