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Infectious Diseases

Updated 30 June 2020

Remdesivir backed to be first treatment for Covid-19 in Europe

As the search for a vaccine continues, experts are relying on existing drugs for Covid-19 treatment. Doctors in Europe will soon be using remdesivir as a targeted therapy.

  • Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, failed to treat Ebola in the past, but showed successful pre-clinical results against SARS and MERS
  • As Covid-19 emerged, Gilead decided to dig up this data and give remdesivir a new lease on life
  • Now, Europe has given the go-ahead for doctors to use remdesivir as an official Covid-19 treatment 

Doctors in Europe will soon be using Gilead’s antiviral drug, remdesivir, as a targeted treatment for Covid-19 after European authorities’ endorsement put the drug on track to become the first therapy for Covid-19 on the continent, Reuters reported on 25 June 2020.

What is remdesivir?

Remdesivir came under the spotlight when it was investigated as a potential Covid-19 treatment in the World Health Organization’s Solidarity trial in March 2020.

As there are as yet no specific treatments designed especially for Covid-19, medical experts started to investigate the use of existing medication, including remdesivir, that was originally developed as an antiviral against Ebola.

The drug is designed to stop certain viruses from replicating themselves inside the body, taking over the immune system and leading to severe illness. Unfortunately, it wasn’t effective against Ebola.

Remdesivir was then provided by Gilead in 2016 as a study drug to see how it would react to SARS and MERS, two previous diseases also caused by coronaviruses. Even though there was enough positive pre-clinical data, Gilead could not advance remdesivir into a clinical development for SARS and MERS as there was a lack of study participants. SARS and MERS infections also started to wane and development seemed irrelevant.

In January, with the emergence of Covid-19, Gilead’s team of virologists identified the need for a Covid-19 treatment and quickly generated pre-clinical data to establish the effect of remdesivir’s effect on Covid-19.

More clinical trials were then undertaken.

What have we learnt about remdesivir and Covid-19 so far?

Experts have been divided on the exact effect of remdesivir on the novel coronavirus, saying that it might not have the wanted results and may do little to treat Covid-19, even though early clinical trials did offer a glimmer of hope.

READ MORE | Remdesivir will not be enough to curb Covid-19, study finds

Some research revealed that remdesivir might not have the exact same positive results on Covid-19 that it had on SARS and MERS. 

But this could be because it was early in the research and experts were sceptical about the outcomes of a clinical trial. When a small number of individuals respond well to a treatment, it doesn’t mean that it will work in larger groups made up of members of different population groups.

But now, months later, European authorities have given the go-ahead for remdesivir to be used as a treatment. This means that remdesivir may now be prescribed to Covid-19 patients across Europe.

But what about distribution?

An earlier concern of remdesivir was mostly whether there would be an adequate supply, especially after demand for the drug soared when the trials showed promise. It had already been approved for emergency-use in severely ill patients in the US, India, South Korea, and Japan.

It is not yet certain what the price of the drug would be in Europe.

Gilead stated that it is planning to test an inhaled version of the drug, which is easier to use. Currently, the medication is given to patients intravenously.

READ | How an Ebola drug might fight Covid-19

READ | All about dexamethasone, which researchers say is a 'breakthrough' Covid-19 treatment

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