Trials of Gilead Coronavirus Drug in China Could Start Next Week

(Bloomberg) -- Gilead Sciences Inc. is shipping enough doses of its experimental coronavirus drug to treat 500 patients in China and is ramping up supply in case clinical trials work.

Remdesivir, an antiviral treatment that shows effectiveness in the lab against coronaviruses, is being tested in two trials in China in patients with moderate and severe symptoms of the novel pathogen, said Merdad Parsey, Gilead’s chief medical officer.

Patients will get 10 once-daily infusions of the experimental drug or a placebo and be evaluated after 28 days to see whether the drug helped.

Gilead is donating about 500 patients’ worth of the experimental drug, and Chinese hospitals will be in charge of conducting the tests. The earliest that results would probably be available is in a couple months, Parsey said.

“No one has been dosed yet to our knowledge,” Parsey said in an interview Tuesday. “The earliest they would start patients is next week.”

While the drug is challenging to produce, Gilead is working as fast as possible to produce more, Parsey said.

“It has been very no-holds-barred on our side,” he said.

Remdesivir is being rushed into trials for the new virus because it previously showed promise in laboratory tests against SARS, a virus similar to the current coronavirus. It’s already been used on the first U.S. coronavirus patient in Washington state, who improved after getting the drug, as well as a handful of other coronavirus patients in the West.

Whether the drug helped the Washington patient or not is hard to tell because doctors don’t know what the natural course of his disease would have been had he not received the treatment.

Antiviral activity of a drug in the lab or animal tests doesn’t necessarily mean a drug will work in people. Remdesivir also worked well in the lab against Ebola, but it didn’t work in human trials to treat that virus.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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