China Starts Testing an Antiviral Drug in Coronavirus Patients: Officials

February 7, 2020 Updated: February 7, 2020
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U.S. officials and Chinese authorities said that antiviral drug remdesivir, used as a treatment for Ebola, is being tested on new coronavirus patients in China.

Gilead Sciences announced it would collaborate with U.S., Chinese, and other health officials to investigate whether the drug works.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a news conference that remdesivir tests have “now begun in a randomized controlled trial in two separate trials in China by one of our colleagues,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, said.

They’re looking at the “effectiveness of the drug” in a “randomized control trial,” Fauci said. “Pretty soon, we are going to get a definitive answer.”

Gilead noted that remdesivir hasn’t been licensed anywhere in the world to treat any viruses, noting that officials aren’t sure whether it’s safe or effective.

“Gilead has provided remdesivir for use in a small number of patients with [coronavirus] for emergency treatment in the absence of any approved treatment options. Gilead is working with health authorities in China to establish a randomized, controlled trial to determine whether remdesivir can safely and effectively be used to treat [coronavirus],” the firm said in a statement.

The firm, based in California’s Foster City, said the drug has shown to have activity against MERS and SARS, which are similar coronaviruses.

Ryan McKeel, a Gilead spokesman, told the New York Times in an email that two clinical trials will take place in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak has been centered. Five-hundred patients will get the drug and comparison patients will get a placebo.

“It is important to keep in mind that this is an experimental medicine that has only been used in a small number of patients with 2019-nCoV to date, so we do not have an appropriately robust understanding of the effect of this drug to warrant broad use at this time,” he said, referring to another name for the virus.

He noted that the firm has stockpiled the drug to use against Ebola and will now use those drugs against the virus in China and for patients in the United States, according to the NY Times.

At the same time, the Wuhan Institute of Virology said it has applied for a patent for remdesivir to treat coronavirus. Gilead, however, said that it has patents for the drug inside China and elsewhere, but its patent for the new coronavirus use is pending.

“Gilead has no influence over whether a patent office issues a patent to the Chinese researchers. Their application has been filed more than three years after Gilead’s filing and will be considered in view of what is already known about the compound and pending patent applications,” McKeel told The Associated Press.