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Remdesivir: Clinical Trials For Promising COVID-19 Drug Underway In North Texas

Gilead Sciences via AP
A vial of the investigational drug remdesivir is visually inspected at a Gilead Sciences manufacturing site in the U-S.

Update (5/2): The Food and Drug Administration has granted an emergency approval for remdesivir as a treatment for severely ill patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The antiviral medication prevents the virus from replicating itself.

Local clinical trials on remdesivir are underway in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  

KERA Vital Signs host Sam Baker talked about the research Baylor Scott and White hospital system is conducting with the principal investigator, Dr. Robert Gottlieb.


How Remdesivir Works

If you imagine you're putting down pieces of a train track, you can put a train track piece that, instead of being straight, ia just a little bit curved. The train stops and now the engine that is laying down the train tracks has to take away that broken train track, throw it out, and then continue back on.

So this virus, the novel coronavirus, is very good at editing that. If you give it a bent piece of rail, it'll take that and toss it into the trash and put down a new piece of rail. So it's one of a very few compounds that can actually trick the machinery into putting that piece of rail into place and then get stuck — and then the virus can't replicate itself. Remdesivir is one of the unique compounds that actually get stuck and it makes the replication complex stop them as tracks.

Use Against Other Viruses

It has been used against SARS, that's why it became such a good lead compound with the current epidemic. The original SARS epidemic, predominantly focused in Asia, was called SARS Coronavirus 1. The current epidemic is SARS coronavirus two, is very similar. We've studied SARS coronavirus type one and some similar viruses like the middle Eastern respiratory virus. MERS has also been studied both in small animals as well as larger animals. Remdesivir seems to work just fine in those cases.

Credit Baylor Scott and White
Resarchers at Baylor Scott and White

About The Clinical Trials

We have two trials:

Wonderful patients that have moderate symptoms where they're hospitalized. They may have shortness of breath and all of them have some evidence of pneumonia from the coronavirus, but their oxygen saturation looks relatively normal. Usually those patients are not considered sick enough to hospitalize. But in this case, we know that this is a different virus. These patients behave very differently and instead of being considered mild risk, they're considered moderate risk because they can become much sicker very quickly. And they require careful attention.

The other trial addresses patients clearly much sicker with an oxygen saturation of 94% or lower, who might need oxygen. These are patients that belong in the hospital for any other condition because they might not be on oxygen at home. They usually have a fever, cough and they may have other symptoms associated.

Any Pressure To Find A Treatment?

Well, I wouldn't say pressure. It's that every researcher, every nurse, every person in any role is a family member, is a friend, knows a patient or is vulnerable to becoming a patient themselves. It's a dedication that many people are doing it from the time they wake up until the time they collapse with exhaustion.


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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.