Researchers Work with Drugs to Fight COVID-19

Without a specific drug to treat COVID-19, doctors have been trying many promising medications. While they will not prevent the infection, they can help manage the illness, alleviate the symptoms and speed recovery. Any tool in the battle against the pandemic is one worth using.

The drug remdesivir, an antiviral, may be able to fight COVID-19. The early results from a study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) saw that patients who received the drug recovered faster than people who received the placebo. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, called the result a "Very important proof of concept." The drug reduced recovery time by four days. It also reduced the mortality rate from 11.3 percent to eight percent.

Dr. Fauci also said, "The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery."

Early research of the drug in China didn't see the same positive results. But, this study was more controlled and had less bias. Additionally, the research in China was stopped early as they didn't have enough volunteers.

Scott Gottlied, the former commissioner of the FDA, said, "Remdesivir isn't a home run but looks active and can be part of a toolbox of drugs and diagnostics that substantially lower our risk heading into the fall." The drug might buy researchers more time to find drugs to specifically treat COVID-19.

The company that makes remdesivir, Gilead Sciences, did its own study. They claimed people who were treated for five days with the drug had the same outcome as people who received the drug for 10 days. However, they did not have a control group receiving a placebo. That means they don't have any outcomes to compare their research with for patients who receive the same care save for the drug. Scientists criticize the results as being unreliable. However, if the result is correct, it would double the number of people who could receive treatment with the same amount of medication.

From the results of the three studies, we clearly need more information before we know how useful remdesivir will be. But it is promising. In addition to this find, doctors around the world are working with different drugs in hopes of finding a treatment. In New York, doctors are using the active ingredient in Pepcid, the popular heartburn medication, to see how it might fight the virus. They are giving people nine times the amount they would take for heartburn, and they are administering it intravenously. They caution that people shouldn't be rushing out to the store to buy heartburn treatments. Leave Pepcid on the shelf unless you are currently suffering from heartburn.

Heartburn medication might seem like an odd thing to test. However, the doctors in New York are building their research off of studies in China that saw the ingredient, famotidine, helped patients. They saw that poorer COVID-19 patients who had heartburn were surviving longer than people with the virus who were wealthy and also suffered from heartburn. They realized the poorer people were taking famotidine to treat their heartburn while more affluent people took more expensive drugs.   

This could be a boon to people with COVID-19 in hospital if it is found to work. Finding treatments that are effective, available and affordable matters. "It's generic, it's plentiful and it's inexpensive," said Dr. Kevin Tracey, president of Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, in New York. Being able to access the drug quickly could save lives. But, he cautions that their work is only preliminary. "We don't know if it has any benefit. We really don't. I swear we don't. People are hoping for anything. But we need to do this clinical trial."

The fight against COVID-19 has a long way to go. But, every step that moves us forward is a win. When doctors can find ways to help their patients, we're thrilled. With so much at stake, we are hoping that the work in New York and NIAID's continuing study show positive results. In the meantime, we'll continue social distancing measures, washing our hands and not touching our faces.

Banner Image: Vial of remdesivir. Image credit: Associated Press
April 30, 2020

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