‘Clear evidence’ drug can ‘block’ virus
A leading infectious diseases expert says there is "clear cut" evidence an experimental antiviral drug "can block" the coronavirus after a clinical trial produced remarkable results.
The preliminary results show that patients given the drug remdesivir recovered 31 per cent faster than those given a placebo, according to the US government study run by the National Institutes of Health.
Gilead Sciences announced on Wednesday local time that remdesivir was successful in treating severe COVID-19 patients in two study groups.
Speaking at the White House today, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said remdesivir "has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery", according to the data.
The data he referred to is from a large study of more than 1,000 patients from multiple sites around the world. Patients either received remdesivir or a placebo. Dr Fauci said that the results were so promising, there is "an ethical obligation to immediately let the placebo group know so they can have access" to the drug. But he also cautioned that the results of the study overseen by his agency, still need to be properly peer reviewed.
"Although a 31 per cent improvement doesn't seem like a knockout 100 per cent, it is a very important proof of concept because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus, "Dr Fauci added.
"This is very optimistic."
US President Donald Trump also weighed in on the matter.
"Certainly it's a positive, it's a very positive event," he said.
Remdesivir was initially developed to treat Ebola but was never brought into regular use or approved. A study from China, which leaked last week, had shown the drug was not effective against the coronavirus but Dr Fauci said the scientific methods of that research were not randomised or controlled.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is under significant pressure to make a safe and effective drug available to COVID-19 patients quickly.
In a statement to NBC News, an FDA official said, "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 drug is given through an IV and is designed to interfere with the virus's ability to copy its genetic material.
It was unclear whether the FDA would take immediate action. The New York Times reports the FDA plans to announce the emergency use of a virus treatment as soon as today.
US coronavirus cases this week hit one million after doubling in 18 days, and make up one-third of all infections in the world, according to a Reuters tally.
More than 56,000 Americans have died of the highly contagious respiratory illness COVID-19 caused by the virus, an average of about 2000 a day this month, according to the tally.
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READ MORE: United States hits one million virus cases
The actual number of cases is thought to be higher, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials have limited testing capacity.
About 30 per cent of the cases have occurred in New York State, the epicentre of the US outbreak, followed by New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania.
Earlier, Mr Trump defended his administration's handling of the pandemic as he met with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and promised to help states safely begin reopening their economies.
Mr Trump, seated next to Mr DeSantis in the Oval Office, insisted that the US was doing enough testing to protect Americans re-entering the workforce. The administration has been sharply criticised for not overseeing widespread testing, but Mr Trump said no amount would ever be good enough for critics in the media.
The president dismissed suggestions that the administration was slow to respond to the threat of COVID-19, including reports that it was mentioned in his daily intelligence briefing in January and February. He stressed his decision to restrict flights from China - though more than 40,000 travellers from China still made it to the US afterwards - and said of the decision: "Whether it was luck, talent or something else, we saved many thousands of lives".
Globally, coronavirus cases have topped three million since the outbreak began in China late last year. The United States, with the world's third-largest population, has five times as many cases as the next hardest-hit countries of Italy, Spain and France.
Of the top 20 most severely affected countries, the United States ranks fifth based on cases per capita, according to a Reuters tally. The US has about 30 cases per 10,000 people. Spain ranks first at over 48 cases per 10,000 people, followed by Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.
US coronavirus deaths, the highest in the world, now exceed the total number of Americans killed in the 1950-53 Korean War - 36,516.
Coronavirus deaths total just below the 58,220 Americans killed during the Vietnam War that ended in 1975.
Originally published as 'Clear evidence' drug can 'block' virus