University of Utah doctors treating COVID-19 patients in remdesivir trial

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SALT LAKE CITY — There was a surge of hope and excitement this week when Dr. Anthony Fauci said the drug remdesivir showed promise for some of the sickest patients with COVID-19. The drug is not FDA approved and is only given in clinical trials right now, but local researchers are eager to find out if it can safely help patients recover from the novel coronavirus.

“This is really the first piece of evidence that we have of any drug that has worked for this infection,” said Dr. Emily Spivak, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, adding that there is statistical evidence that remdesivir is active against this virus.

“There’s a lot of optimism I think,” she said.

But Spivak cautioned remdesivir is not a cure-all and won’t immediately wipe out the infection.

As part of a national trial, doctors were giving the drug to very sick patients with COVID-19 at the University of Utah to see how well it works. At this stage, the drug is given intravenously to hospitalized patients only.

Remdesivir is not a new drug — it was tested on Ebola patients, without results. Now, the university is giving it to approximately 10 patients while working with the drug maker, Gilead Sciences.

“Some have gotten better. Some haven’t,” said Spivak. “Was it the drug that helped them get better? Or was it their own body, their own immune system?”

It’s too early for conclusions, Spivak added.

But two studies suggest remdesivir reduced the duration of symptoms and may reduce deaths. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that those who took the drug recovered in 11 days, while those who did not take 15 days to recover. Those who took the drug were also slightly less likely to die.

“When we see something that almost seems to hold out this glimmer of hope, we jump on it almost like we’ve lost our minds,” said Dr. Samuel Brown, a critical care physician and researcher at Intermountain Healthcare. He is also a principle investigator on the studies being performed on the drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin and their potential use for COVID-19 patients.

Researchers at Intermountain Healthcare are not participating in this trial for remdesivir, but they were thoughtful and skeptical as they watch the trials.

“This is not a miracle drug,” said Brown. “This will not cure COVID. This is not ever something that will save everybody from COVID. But, there is the suggestion that it may be moderately effective.”

He said it’s important to temper our expectations for any drug tested on COVID-19. But this is the first drug with any data showing any impact on the virus.

“We actually, for the first time, see a signal that we have something that might work,” said Spivak.

Under the pandemic circumstances, the FDA could come to a conclusion quickly, Brown added.

“They are working fast, and hard and smart,” he said.

Again, this is a drug being tested for the sickest patients. So doctors said it’s very important we all still work to do everything we can to prevent the virus from spreading.

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Jed Boal


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