The results of a federal study of the use of remdesivir to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients were announced Wednesday, and shares of Bay Area-based Gilead Sciences were trending up as a result — as was the rest of the stock market.
Since the early days of this pandemic, way back in early February, the antiviral drug remdesivir was identified as a potentially promising treatment for COVID-19. The drug was used experimentally both in China and in some of the first patients in Italy, producing anecdotal reports that it led to rapid improvement in severely ill patients.
But in the months since, we've still been waiting for hard data, the likes of which can only come from a double-blind study in which ill patients are given either the drug or a placebo. And now, as the New York Times reports, such a study is complete, and it was conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And Gilead hinted in a statement Wednesday morning that it "is aware of positive data" from the study.
Speaking on a morning call with reporters, Dr. Anthony Fauci called the study results "quite good news," as the Associated Press reported. And he further said that remdesivir "will be the standard of care" for COVID patients going forward.
Remdesivir is administered through an IV, and it is meant to halt the virus's ability to replicate itself in the human body. Tests on animals infected with SARS and MERS showed the drug to be effective, and Gilead has been distributing the drug to hospitals around the country both under a "compassionate use" program, and subsequently via small-scale, group-based distributions requiring patient data in return. But this would be the first large-scale study with federal backing, and sounds like it could be game-changing in the virus fight.
The study looked at 1,063 patients around the world, comparing the course of their coronavirus infection with normal courses of treatment to treatment with remdesivir. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the study found that severely ill patients who were given remdesivir recovered in 11 days, on average, while those who were given a placebo recovered in 15 days — which is statistically significant.
Per the AP:
The NIH study quickly enrolled its original goal of 440 patients and then was expanded to give more answers on questions such as which subgroups may or may not benefit, and other factors that may affect success, such as how early in the course of illness the drug was given.
Not all the results from this study were so conclusive, however. Per the Journal, a lower number of patients in the remdesivir group died versus the placebo group, but the difference was slim and not statistically significant. 8 percent of patients who were given the drug died, while 11 percent of those in the placebo group died.
The FDA has issued a statement Wednesday saying that it is in talks with Gilead "regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate."
Trading of Gilead's stock had to be halted early Wednesday as this news trickled out, but by 1 p.m. on Wall Street, shares in the company were up almost 7 percent to $84.11.
Gilead seemed to have a small setback with remdesivir last week, when leaked data from a Chinese study showed inconclusive results in treating COVID-19 patients. The company's stock fell as a result, but Gilead maintained that the study was flawed and was ended early due to low enrollment.
Another study whose results were leaked a week earlier, looking at 125 patients treated with the drug in Chicago, showed promising results, but that study was not randomized.
The FDA has said that there are over 70 clinical trials of potential treatments underway, with over 200 still in the planning stages.
*This post has been updated throughout with details from the clinical trial.