By: Lieba Nesis
As coronavirus claims an increasing number of lives with little respite from the mounting death toll a brief reprieve seems on the horizon. US stock futures surged 800 points after Gilead Sciences reported its drug Remdesivir showed promising results in a clinical trial at a Chicago hospital. Gilead, which jumped 16.41% in after-hours trading, recruited 125 people, 113 of whom had severe coronavirus, to be treated with daily infusions of Remdesivir. Nearly all of the critical patients were discharged from the hospital in less than a week, with only two dying. President Trump has touted the drug in numerous press conferences and excitement remains high as to its potential. The drug, a nucleotide analog, inhibits the replication mechanism of the coronavirus providing a targeted treatment that impedes the viruses’ spread. Anti-virals, such as remdesivir, were used during the first SARS outbreak in 2003, but never made widely available because the costs of developing the drugs were over $10 billion. However, the trillions of dollars this pandemic is costing has led dozens of drug companies racing to find a cure.
Remdesivir was initially developed by American biotech company Gilead Sciences, as a treatment for Ebola and the Marburg virus. In October 2015 preclinical results revealed that it had blocked the Ebola virus in Rhesus monkeys. However, in August 2019 Congolese health officials announced it was less effective than monoclonal antibodies in treating Ebola and so it’s use was terminated. However, the numerous trials conducted confirmed its safety profile. It is currently being tested in five clinical trials and more information will soon be forthcoming. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s spokesperson, recently remarked “there’s only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy, and that’s remdesivir.”
The first recipient of the drug was Patient Zero in the US, a 35-year old man who had visited his family in Wuhan, China. After initially developing mild symptoms he was admitted to Providence Medical Center in Washington on January 20th. Soon thereafter, the man‘s situation took a critical turn, as he began experiencing shortness of breath, pneumonia and a high fever. As his condition continued to decline hospital officials contacted Gilead who overnighted the drug to be used on a compassionate care basis. The drug which is administered intravenously was given to the patient on the evening of day 7, and the patient reported alleviation of symptoms the following day. These results while promising, needed to be confirmed by expert trials two of which were set up in China only to be halted due to poor enrollment. Gilead has been taking matters into its own hands setting up a recent study with 53 patients, 30 of whom were on mechanical ventilation. After ten days of treatment, 68% had an improvement in oxygen levels and almost half of the patients were discharged from the hospital during that time. As for the seven patients who died, six of them were on ventilators at the beginning of the study. These results are astounding when considering the near-death condition of the patients.
Gilead’s founder, Michael Riordan, has overseen the rapid expansion of this publicly traded company which was founded 33 years ago. With annual revenue of $22 billion and more then 11,000 employees, this California based company is soaring. The company’s primary focus has been on antivirals after its founder, Riordan, developed dengue fever. Some of its discoveries include Tamiflu for influenza and Viread for HIV. In 2002 Gilead changed its strategy to focus exclusively on antivirals, later launching Hepsera for Hepatitis B and Truvada as a prophylactic against HIV. It’s continued acquisition of smaller pharmaceutical companies has placed it in the forefront of medical innovations; however, if it succeeds in halting deaths from this horrific pandemic, it’s value will soar tenfold both in terms of goodwill and most importantly in saving lives.