Updated at 5:30 p.m., March 31 with comment from Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis University doctors are using an experimental drug to treat hospitalized patients who test positive for COVID-19.
The National Institutes of Health recently launched a study on remdesivir at SLU and about 60 research sites around the world. The intravenous drug has been used to treat a small number of COVID-19 patients, but there’s not enough evidence to show that any drug is an effective treatment.
Determining whether remdesivir works could save lives, said Sarah George, an infectious disease researcher at SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development.
“People need to have the confidence if they’re taking something, or if their loved one is getting something, that it’s actually going to work,” George said. “Right now, there’s no solid data behind anything despite all the internet fuss.”
Antiviral medications can stop a virus from reproducing and spreading to other organs in the body.
“If the virus cannot replicate itself, it cannot cause harm in you and you cannot transmit it to another person. You just stop it in its tracks,” George said.
Doctors gave remdesivir last month to seven passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. All of them survived, but scientists say it’s unclear how much the drug helped them.
Remdesivir has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat any disease. Researchers previously tested it for Ebola and other coronaviruses. Biotech company Gilead Sciences announced on Saturday that it would expand patients’ access to the drug. Barnes Jewish Hospital is seeking permission from Gilead to use remdesivir for seriously ill patients, said Dr. Steven Liang, an infectious disease physician at Washington University.
St. Louis-area patients who’ve been hospitalized for COVID-19 could qualify to be participants in the NIH study, depending on what other medical conditions they have, George said. Some patients will be given remdesivir, and others will be given a placebo to help scientists understand the drug’s effectiveness.
The NIH study will enroll participants over the next couple of weeks, and data analysis could begin as soon as a month from now.
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