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Why Remdesivir is being looked at as the next big “cure” for COVID-19

M3 India Newsdesk Mar 23, 2020

Even as scientists across the world scamper to find a vaccine or cure to the novel coronavirus, another drug which has been tried selectively is showing promising results.

For our comprehensive coverage and latest updates on COVID-19 click here.

When Remdesivir was first discovered, it was created with the intention of being used as a generic antiviral medication. Now almost over a decade later, scientists have discovered that the drug may possibly be used to target the coronavirus outbreak.

What is this drug and how beneficial is it to treating someone afflicted with coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

The drug is currently being regarded as a potential aid in light of the current outbreak. It is being seriously reconsidered for a number of clinical trials after it was found to be effective in treating three extremely sick individuals in the United States who had contracted COVID-19. There will be a series of 5 clinical trials, the results of the first of which are expected to be shared in April.

Though Remdesivir is still largely being studied, several experts remain optimistic about the benefits of the drug when used to treat COVID-19. Bruce Aylward, of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is one such individual. The assistant director-general of the WHO stated last month that he strongly believes that remdesivir is the only drug with the “real efficacy” to fight the coronavirus.

It all started in February when a woman in Sacramento, California was confirmed to be positive for coronavirus disease. The woman had not given any recent history of traveling abroad or having been in contact with someone who had relevant travel history, but still contracted the infection. This made her the first case of community transmission of the virus in the country. When her condition began to decline despite various efforts her doctors obtained permission on compassionate grounds from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test an experimental drug on her.

Remdesivir, which is given via intravenous drips, had been showing signs of promise against the coronavirus in some studies. It acts by rendering the enzyme RNA polymerase, found in viruses which is required to replicate its genetic material, ineffective. While the drug doesn’t specifically act on the virus SARS-CoV-2 (which causes coronavirus disease), it showed promise in lab tests conducted using viruses from the same family.

What are some of the concerns expressed by doctors over Remdesivir?

Several health care professionals noted that Remdesivir causes mild liver inflammation, as the result of which individuals with liver issues should not be administered the drug. Coronavirus has been known to cause viral hepatitis, in many individuals liver function tests showed abnormal results, who could not receive the drug as a result.

One study even showed that in three individuals who had been administered the drug, liver enzymes were elevated to concerning levels.

As per the unofficial guidelines being followed on a trial and error basis, liver function tests are being used as a standard by many healthcare professionals to best determine whether or not to start their patients on the drug. However, since it has yet to be approved for widespread use, it is being released selectively by its manufacturer, biotechnology company Gilead Sciences.

In addition to COVID-19, the drug has also shown possible antiviral action against Ebola, Marburg, MERS and SARS in preclinical studies. MERS and SARS also belong to the Coronaviridae family, just like the novel coronavirus.

The novel coronavirus which has been found to be the cause of the COVID-19 outbreak has been termed the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There have been two major strains of the virus identified from the centre of the outbreak, an aggressive strain causing a more severe infection and another which causes a mild infection.

Other potential treatments being studied

In addition to Remdesivir, several other treatment options are also being studied. Many companies are in a race to find a vaccine against the virus. Four people from Seattle in Washington, USA became the first people to have received a shot of the vaccine as part of the first set of human trials of a vaccine. The first person to receive the vaccine was a 43-year-old woman.

In addition to the hunt for a vaccine, a Japanese company is currently working to develop antibodies against the virus, by using the blood of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.

The coronavirus is known to cause the common cold (second only to rhinoviruses). It has crown-like projections on its surface which gave rise to its name ‘corona’ (meaning crown).

Over 118,00 cases of COVID-19 have been reported across the world, with India having confirmed 130 positive cases. As of this week, there have been 3 deaths due to the infection reported in the country. Several states have issued strict orders for lockdown to reduce the chance of spread of the infection from person to person. Those who have symptoms have been advised to contact helpline numbers to determine what steps to take if ill.

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