Early data shows antiviral may help COVID-19 patients recover faster

FOSTER CITY, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 29: A sign is posted in front of the Gilead Sciences headquarters on April 29, 2020 in Foster City, California. Gilead Sciences announced preliminary results of a drug trial with that showed at least 50 percent of pati

Early data suggests an experimental antiviral drug could be beneficial in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Researchers says early data from a government-led study showed the drug, remdesivir, helped hospitalized COVID-19 patients recover more quickly, and may slightly boost their chances of surviving complications of the virus.

Dr. Aneesh Mehta, the lead investigator of the Emory arm of the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial, or ACTT, cautioned the data was preliminary but positive.

"We hope, and we believe, that remdesivir is the first therapeutic, the first medication, to show a positive effect on patients with COVID-19," Dr. Mehta says.

Right now there is no FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19, which causes severe disease in about 20 percent of people infected.

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The study, led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, looked at how the drug performed in patients hospitalized with complications of the virus, including either pneumonia or breathing problems that required oxygen support.

Researchers found patients who received remdesivir had a 31% faster recovery time than those who received a placebo.

"It showed that the drug remdesiver seemed to improve the time to recovery from an average of 15 days in the patients who received the placebo, to 11 days in the patients that who received remdesivir," Dr. Mehta says.  "That helps us shorten the time the patients need to be in the hospital and need medical care, and decrease the chances of them developing complications of their COVID-19 infection."

SEE ALSO: Gilead says remdesivir proved effective against coronavirus in US study

In the next phase of the study, Dr. Mehta says, they hope to combine remdesivir with another medication to dampen down inflammation in the body triggered when the immune system overreacts to the virus.

Still, he cautioned people from reading too much into the findings.

"It is really important to realize remdesivir and other antivirals are not silver bullets.  They do not immediately get rid of an infection.  They take time to work and they work by slowing preventing the virus from making more of itself."

Dr. Mehta says they hope to better understand which patients seem to benefit from the antiviral, and which patients might need a different treatment approach.

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