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Coronavirus update: Hopes build over Gilead drug as global case count grows

·Senior Reporter
·4 min read

An experimental antiviral drug to treat COVID-19 patients has fanned high expectations in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which has gained a decisive foothold in the United States and continues to spread around the world.

Gilead Sciences (GILD) acknowledged Wednesday that its drug, remdisivir, has seen positive results in both a company-sponsored and National Institute of Health-run study — with the federal regulators reportedly prepared to bestow emergency approval on the drug, according to The New York Times.

The treatment has been a frontrunner in the treatment race for the global coronavirus pandemic after it was first tested in China, which ended as enrollment numbers fell short. However, Gilead’s stock has mostly reaped the benefit of high expectations in a market desperate for good news, despite skepticism about what early test results meant for a broader deployment strategy.

“The study demonstrates the potential for some patients to be treated with a 5-day regimen, which could significantly expand the number of patients who could be treated with our current supply of remdesivir,” Dr. Merdad Parsey, Gilead’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.

“This is particularly important in the setting of a pandemic, to help hospitals and healthcare workers treat more patients in urgent need of care,” she added.

The news sparked a market rally, and amplified hopes for containing the global outbreak, which has now claimed more than 3.1 million lives and killed more than 218,000. In the U.S., more than 1 million are now infected, and killed more than 58,000, as officials debate how to safely relax lockdowns that are crippling the economy.

California is the latest state mulling a way to ease restrictions, and companies are calling employees back to the offices in June. Yet the Northeast remains a stronghold for growing cases and deaths, with New York and New Jersey seeing significant growth in infections despite falling hospitalization rates. Meanwhile, Massachusetts is also seeing increased rates of cases.

Testing continues to be a major component of a reopening strategy, as the Centers for Disease Control eased restrictions on who can receive them. The U.S. has now tested more than 5.7 million individuals, with Rhode Island the top state in per capita testing, followed by New York and New Jersey.

The world's largest economy accounts for about 1/3 of the COVID-19 cases worldwide, but has a lower per-capita death rate.
The world's largest economy accounts for about 1/3 of the COVID-19 cases worldwide, but has a lower per-capita death rate.

Gilead’s study shows promise

Gilead’s study was a limited study of the effects of the drug on severe patients.

The study’s results show similar positive outcomes in severe patients who were on the drug for either five days or 10 days. The trial focused on patients who were not on ventilators, and were given the drug within 10 days after the onset of symptoms. At least 50% of patients were discharged from the hospital.

Gilead said in its statement the results will still need to be peer-reviewed, but shows potential for the drug’s ability to treat patients who are not on ventilators.

Still, the federal government appears to be moving quickly to capitalize on the results. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in talks with Gilead to help boost drug production and get the drug to patients as quickly as possible.

“As part of the FDA’s commitment to expediting the development and availability of potential COVID-19 treatments, the agency has been engaged in sustained and ongoing discussions with Gilead Sciences regarding making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, as appropriate,” the agency said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the results of a second, placebo-controlled probe by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, will be announced at the White House coronavirus task force briefing later in the day.

Gilead said Wednesday they were informed of the positive results in the NIH trial. Earlier in the month, NIH announced the drug was showing positive signs in repressing the virus in animal testing.

NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters at the White House Wednesday the NIH study has shown results of improvements in patients but doesn’t “seem like a knock out” and the robust study offers “very important proof of concept.”

The study showed a 31% improvement in recovery time for patients on remdisivir, compared to those not taking the drug. In addition, the drug showed a reduction in deaths, 8% versus 11% in the placebo group, according to a statement from NIH.

The first patient enrolled in the trial was a passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship which resulted in the first U.S. cases after passengers were repatriated in early February.

President Donald Trump also weighed in Wednesday saying, “it’s a very positive event.”

[Click here for more of Yahoo Finance’s coronavirus coverage: Personal finance tips, news, policy, graphics & more from Yahoo Finance]

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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