It's been a top candidate in the fight against the coronavirus: an experimental drug called remdesivir. The medical website StatNews raised hopes Thursday night with a report that most patients receiving the drug in a clinical trial in Chicago recovered quickly.

Dr. Barry Zingman is leading a trial of remdesivir at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. He says it’s still early — but he’s encouraged by how patients are doing.

“People are doing a lot better. The mortality rate in our study among patients who have come into this study have come dramatically down over the course of the last month. That has to do with both people coming in earlier, there’s heightened awareness, whether or not they might have COVID-19, as well our supportive therapies for people have gotten so much better,” said Zingman, the clinical director of infectious diseases at Montefiore. “I think that many people are getting the remdesivir and that may be helping as well.”

More than 80 people have enrolled in Montefiore's trial, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and began four weeks ago. The patients all had lung complications, including rattling breathing sounds. chest x-rays showing pneumonia, and the need for a ventilator or supplemental oxygen.

“So half the people are getting the antiviral drug remdesivir, half are getting the placebo and we’ve seen some remarkable improvements as well, but we don’t know yet whether the patients are getting the drug or getting the placebo,” Zingman said.

None of the patients in The trial reported by StatNews are receiving a placebo. StatNews said researchers in that trial reportedly are seeing rapid reductions in both fevers and respiratory symptoms — with nearly all patients being discharged in less than a week.

But Zingman says the placebo is crucial to knowing whether people are recovering on their own, with the supportive therapy offered by hospital staff, or because they’re taking remdesivir. He says it's also the only way to study any side-effects of the drug.

“Many patients with COVID-19 will develop respiratory failure, they’ll need oxygen, they’ll need a ventilator, they may develop kidney failure, they may develop heart failure and other medical problems in it,” he said. “It’s only in the placebo-controlled trial that we can tell if these are better or worse with the medicine or not.”

He says if researchers observe a dramatic difference between the two control groups, their findings could be shared in two weeks.

Gilead Sciences, which makes the drug, says it hopes to have data from seven clinical trials across the globe, including the one here in New York, by May.



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