Hope, disappointment seen in trials for coronavirus drug

One large COVID-19 study hints at the potential benefit of an experimental drug called remdesivir, even as another study published the same day has disappointing results.

But both studies had flaws, making results difficult to interpret in the absence of more research.

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The first study, from Gilead Sciences, found that patients who were given a 10-day treatment course of the drug “achieved similar improvement in clinical status compared with those taking a 5-day treatment course,” the company, which makes the drug, said in a press release Wednesday.

The other study, published in The Lancet, found remdesivir had no effect on reducing COVID-19 death rates, or even on making people feel better faster.

Gilead has not yet released enough information from its trial to show what that “improvement” means for patients. The company said full results would be published “in the coming weeks.”

The analysis did not compare remdesivir to a placebo, so it’s impossible to determine whether any benefits were due to the drug or whether patients would have improved on their own.

Separately, The Lancet study’s conclusion was muddied because the research was stopped early, because the investigators in Wuhan, China were only able to recruit half of the patients they’d planned to study.

“This is not the outcome we hoped for,” Bin Cao, study author and a professor at China-Japan Friendship Hospital and Capital Medical University in China, said in a press release. “We are mindful that we were only able to enroll 237 of the target 453 patients because the COVID-19 outbreak was brought under control in Wuhan.”

Other, larger clinical trials of remdesivir are ongoing.

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The Gilead research was meant to determine how long hospitalized patients would need to be on the drug for a potential clinical benefit. If patients only need five days of treatment, rather than 10, it would mean Gilead could double the number of people treated.

“This is particularly important in the setting of a pandemic,” Dr. Merdad Parsey, Gilead’s chief medical officer, said in the press release.

Remdesivir is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and has not been proven as an effective treatment for patients with the coronavirus. Results from other trials are expected in the coming weeks.

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