The University of Rochester Medical Center has been participating in a clinical trial testing the safety and efficacy of the antiviral drug remdesivir. According to preliminary results released by the National Institutes of Health, the drug is now showing promise in treating adults diagnosed with COVID-19.
The study is led by Ann Falsey, a professor in the Department of Medicine (Infectious Diseases), and Angela Branche, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine (Infectious Diseases), with the Medical Center’s Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit (VTEU). The Medical Center is one of only nine VTEU sites in the US.
“Based on some of the data that has come out in the last couple of days, it seems that remdesivir does show some proven benefit over placebo,” Branche says.
Preliminary data from the trials indicate remdesivir speeds up recovery time for some patients with COVID-19. Specifically, the data show that patients who received remdesivir recovered, on average, four days faster than patients who received a placebo (11 days versus 14 days). The results also suggested a mortality rate of 8.0 percent for the group receiving remdesivir versus 11.6 percent for those in the placebo group. That result is considered promising but not statistically significant.
When Branche and Falsey told their teams about these preliminary results, “one of our nurses said she’s going to go home happy crying instead of sad crying, which I think is reflective of the magnitude of what we’ve been seeing over the past months and how reassuring and rewarding it is to know we are part of something that could be beneficial to people,” Branche says.
Sixteen COVID-19-positive volunteers from the University’s Strong Memorial Hospital were enrolled in the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial and received either placebo or the drug, administered intravenously.
The trial is ongoing and more information will be forthcoming, including how best to use the drug and whether its effectiveness can be improved by administering it in conjunction with other drugs, such as the anti-inflammatory baricitinib.
“The results with remdesivir are positive, but it’s not a miracle drug,” Falsey says. “It becomes our building block on which we try to improve.”
Remdesivir, developed by Gilead Sciences, is a broad-spectrum antiviral treatment that has been previously tested in humans with the Ebola virus and has shown promise in animal models for treating Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which are caused by other coronaviruses.
The Medical Center’s VTEU was established with support from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to conduct clinical trials of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics for known and emergent infectious threats.