Is remdesivir effective in coronavirus treatment? China study says No, US says Yes

Remdesivir is designed to interfere with the way a virus reproduces, thereby stopping it from multiplying inside the body

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The efficacy of antiviral drug remdesivir in treatment of coronavirus has become a bone of contention with contrary claims coming from the US and China.

US government official Anthony Fauci has vouched for remdesivir after a clinical trial in the US found that patients who were given remdesivir recovered 31 per cent faster than those given a placebo.

Fauci, while speaking at the White House, said data from one clinical trial shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery. Drugmaker Gilead too claimed there were signs that remdesivir could be useful, possibly in patients with milder versions of the disease.

However, a study in China seems to suggest otherwise. The study carried out by China-Japan Friendship Hospital and Capital Medical University found remdesivir did not significantly speed up recovery in COVID-19 patients, medical journal Lancet reported. The study was conducted on 237 adult patients - aged 18 and older - from 10 Wuhan hospitals.

The study claimed that remdesivir drug had not resulted in statistically significant clinical benefits and showed results similar to a placebo. The report further suggested that nearly 66 per cent of the patients reported adverse events including gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting, and cardiopulmonary failure, after receiving the drug.

"Unfortunately, our trial found that while safe and adequately tolerated, remdesivir did not provide significant benefits over placebo," said Professor Bin Cao from China-Japan Friendship Hospital and Capital Medical University.

The study in China was the first randomised controlled trial of remdesivir. The researchers warned that interpretation of their findings was limited as the study was stopped early due to a steep decline in cases in China, making them unable to recruit more patients.

"This is not the outcome we hoped for, but we are mindful that we were only able to enrol 237 of the target 453 patients because the COVID-19 outbreak was brought under control in Wuhan," Cao said.

"What is more, restrictions on bed availability resulted in most patients being enrolled later in the disease course, so we were unable to adequately assess whether earlier treatment with remdesivir might have provided clinical benefit," Cao explained.

Researchers concluded that more evidence is needed to better understand remdesivir's meaningful clinical benefit.

All patients in the trial had received standard care including lopinavir/ritonavir, interferons, and corticosteroids. Remdesivir is designed to interfere with the way a virus reproduces, thereby stopping it from multiplying inside the body.

The researchers noted that future studies need to determine whether earlier treatment with remdesivir, higher doses, or combination with other antivirals or SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies, might be more effective in those with severe illness.

(With agency inputs)

(Edited by Vivek Dubey)

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