Gilead to Test a Version of Remdesivir That Can Be Inhaled

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The New York Times published on June 22, 2020:

The American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences will soon start trials of an inhalable version of remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has shown promise as a therapeutic against the coronavirus in early trials, according to a statement released Monday.

Remdesivir is currently given intravenously, which restricts its use to hospital settings. “That’s been the limitation” with this drug, said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, a pulmonologist and regional director of critical care medicine at Northwell Health.

Gilead’s inhalable version of the treatment would be administered through a nebulizer, a device that sends a mist of therapeutic liquid into the airway and is often used by asthma patients. Some nebulizers are portable; Gilead scientists hope that a more convenient treatment would be used by patients at various stages of infection.

Nebulizers “are commonly available” compared with IV equipment, said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University. “Pretty much every outpatient urgent care clinic has them. You could potentially treat somebody on the spot who has a positive test” for the coronavirus “but may or may not have symptoms.”

Remdesivir, which interferes with virus replication, is the first antiviral drug to show effectiveness against the coronavirus in human trials. It was given Emergency Use Authorization by the United States Food and Drug Administration on May 1, allowing physicians to deploy the drug intravenously in hospitalized patients with confirmed diagnoses of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. However, this designation does not constitute formal drug approval, and remdesivir’s safety and efficacy are still being investigated in several clinical trials.

In a study published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine, remdesivir showed modest effects, shortening average recovery time to 11 days from 15 in hospitalized patients with the coronavirus. But the effects on mortality were negligible.

Buoyed by these early results, Gilead Sciences now hopes their inhalable iteration of remdesivir will help “stem the tide of the pandemic,” Daniel O’Day, Gilead’s chairman and C.E.O., said in a statement Monday. Beginning this week, healthy volunteers will be screened for participation in Phase I trials, which will test for safety. Covid-19 patients are expected to enter the lineup as early as August.

Convenience could end up being crucial to boosting remdesivir’s effects, Dr. Rasmussen said. The drug may be less effective when administered late in infection, after a patient has already sought treatment for serious symptoms. But under ideal circumstances, early doses of remdesivir could nip the disease in the bud.

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