Shorter Regimen
A separate study of 397 patients released by Gilead Wednesday found remdesivir appears equally effective when given for half as long as the 10 days used in the NIAID and other studies, and that some patients may fare even better when given less medication. The potential ability to treat patients for less time would help ease strain on stretched health systems that must infuse the medicine, and make supplies of the drug last longer.

Two weeks after treatment, 65% of those who got the five-day dose had recovered, compared with just 54% of those who received the infusion for 10 days. The death rate showed a similar trend, with 8% of patients getting less drug dying, compared with 11% in the 10-day group. The difference wasn’t statistically significant, which means it could have happened by chance.

The five-day regimen “could significantly expand the number of patients who could be treated with our current supply of remdesivir,” said Merdad Parsey, Gilead’s chief medical officer.

Taken together, Gilead’s study and the NIAID trial could signal a profound shift in the race to get the novel coronavirus under control. The availability of a treatment could allow the world to start reopening economies, as well as offer psychological relief to billions of people who have been self-isolating to hide from the virus.

In the most severe cases, Covid-19 can lead to respiratory failure and death. More than 1 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S., and over 200,000 people have died around the globe from the illness.

Trials Continuing
Multiple trials of the drug are still underway. The NIAID trial measured how quickly patients taking it were able to be removed from supplemental oxygen therapy or were discharged from the hospital. The agency plans to publish the findings in a medical journal in the near future, Fauci said.

The trial, run by the National Institutes of Health, aimed to sign up about 800 patients to test the drug and give a definitive answer as to whether it can help treat the illness.

An NIAID representative said in an email that the agency is planning an announcement Wednesday, with the most likely venue the White House task-force briefing.

Remdesivir will likely be approved for use in certain settings on the basis of the positive result, said Jefferies health-care strategist Jared Holz, at least until better alternatives are available.

“There is a massive bias to look at the data with half-glass-full approach,” he said, adding that it’s “totally fair given the current predicament.”