A US biotech firm has ramped up production of an experimental drug that has become a focal point for hopes of an effective treatment for coronavirus. The first clinical trial of the antiviral medicine remdesivir in Covid-19 patients is due to report its findings next month according to Gilead Sciences, which said it had accelerated manufacturing of the drug to increase its supplies “as rapidly as possible”.
As the coronavirus outbreak has unfolded, about 300 separate trials into different drugs and experimental therapies have been launched in the absence of any established treatments. Many see remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola, as a frontrunner and one of the very few drugs that has a reasonable prospect of helping patients in the near-term.
While awaiting these results, doctors in the US, China and Italy are already using remdesivir on a compassionate basis to treat small numbers of patients with severe Covid-19. The first US patient, a 35-year-old man in Snohomish County, Washington, recovered, but the full trials are needed to assess whether the drug reduces the severity of symptoms and, crucially, mortality rates.
Other compounds being tested include the anti-HIV drug Kaletra and other medicines that are normally used to treat hepatitis and malaria. Kaletra is a combination drug used to control HIV. The drug marries lopinavir, which blocks the replication of HIV, and ritonavir, a compound that boosts lopinavir’s lifetime in the bloodstream by preventing the body from breaking it down so swiftly.