May 13, 2020
Pennsylvania hospitals have begun receiving shipments of remdesivir, the promising intravenous drug now being used to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19, the health department said Wednesday.
Remdesivir has shown modest success in clinical trials, including a key study that found the drug reduced the recovery time for some COVID-19 patients by as many as four days when compared to a placebo. Since receiving emergency use authorization from the Food & Drug Administration, the drug has quickly become the standard for treating patients who are dealing with more severe infections, though its effectiveness has not been thoroughly proven.
On Tuesday, the federal government distributed 1,200 doses of remdesivir to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The treatment is now making its way out to 51 hospitals across the state, chosen based on the number of COVID-19 patients they received over a recent seven-day period and the severity of the illnesses of those patients, including whether they are on a ventilator.
"The department is working to give our hospitals every opportunity to treat patients with COVID-19," said Pennsylvania health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. "It is important to note that there is limited information on the safety and effectiveness of using remdesivir to treat people in the hospital with COVID-19."
The drug, originally manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc.to treat Ebola, works by interfering with the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to replicate within a patient's cells. Remdesivir is administered to a patient through an IV once per day for up to 10 days, depending on how critically ill the patient is.
While the experimental drug is available in the U.S. through clinical trials, Gilead is providing about 607,000 vials of remdesivir during the next six weeks to treat approximately 78,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients across the country who are in critical condition. The company is donating more than 1.5 million vials of the drug worldwide and has struck a deal with several generic drugmakers to produce remdesivir for use around the world.
A series of new trials now seek to determine whether remdesivir can be more effective in combination with other medicines, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Researchers hope to successfully pair remdesivir with another antiviral or a drug that limits a patient's overactive immune response, which often leads to severe complications.
Gilead hopes to develop an inhalation device or pre-filled syringe that could eventually enable the remdesivir to be used outside of hospital settings.