The anti-viral medication remdesivir has no significant effect in preventing the deaths of Covid-19 patients, according to a multinational study carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The study involved 11,000 test subjects in 30 countries worldwide. The results, published by the WHO yesterday, consist only of raw data, which have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a journal. They have already led to some dispute.
Remdesivir is a medication developed by the pharmaceutical company Gilead for the treatment of Ebola virus and hepatitis C, and was thought to show promise in the treatment of Covid-19.
It was later thought to reduce the time Covid-19 patients spent in recovery. Earlier this month, it was part of a cocktail of drugs administered to US president Donald Trump, which allowed him to make an unusually speedy recovery from a Covid infection.
Barely a week ago, an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested “a trend towards reduced mortality” in some patients. Now the WHO study has put paid to that hope.
The so-called Solidarity study involved 11,300 patients in 405 hospitals in 30 countries, who were administered one or more drugs either singly or in combination – remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir (used in treatment of HIV), interferon (used in treating cancers and viral infections) or interferon plus lopinavir.
A control group of 4,100 patients received no medication.
In the end, the results showed no effect on the time spent in hospital, the chances of requiring a ventilator or the rate of mortality, the WHO said. The authors of the study called the results “unpromising”.
The most serious effects of a Covid-19 infection are thought to be caused not by the virus itself, but by what is known as a cytokine storm, when the immune system reacts massively to the infection, turning the body’s defences against itself.
Even if the antiviral has no effect by the time that event occurs, the hope is now that a drug like remdesivir could still have some effect in the early stages by preventing the cytokine storm from taking place.
The European Commission, acting on behalf of member states, recently negotiated the purchase of 500,000 treatment of remdesivir, and the drug, costing some $2,300 a time, is used in Belgian hospitals to treat severe cases of Covid-19.