As China continues its push to conceal and crack down on coronavirus-related research happening inside its borders, Gilead's CEO reported over the weekend that Beijing had shut down a branch of its closely watched global remdesivir that was studying patients in 'severe' condition in Wuhan. After showing early promise, the study was allegedly shuttered by the government because there weren't enough patients who qualified.
Beijing would love it if the world truly believed that there aren't anymore COVID-19 patients in Wuhan who are still in serious condition. But even as the city opens up (with Beijing promising Monday to institute stricter checks on people attempting to leave the city), suspicions about China undercounting cases make this claim extremely hard to believe.
So, why did China shut down a study where preliminary data appeared to show progress in healing moderately sick patients in the West? It's almost as if they don't want the rest of the world to develop a treatment.
In an open letter published over the weekend, Gilead CEO Daniel O'Day argued that more data from the global drug trial should be available by the end of April. However, he noted Chinese authorities who stopped the trial in Wuhan haven't seen when they plan to turn over Gilead's data.
We know that there is tremendous interest around when the data from these trials will be available and what they will tell us about remdesivir. We feel the urgency as we wait for the science to speak. With every day that goes by, the desperate need to equip healthcare workers and their patients with a safe, effective treatment becomes more pressing. We are working with intense speed to determine whether remdesivir could be an option and we are committed to sharing information when it becomes available to us.
We expect that we will have preliminary data from the study of remdesivir in severe patients at the end of April and will work quickly to interpret and share the findings. The publication of data from the China remdesivir trials rests with the Chinese investigators, but we have been informed that the study in patients with severe symptoms was stopped due to stalled enrollment. We look forward to reviewing the published data when available. In May, we anticipate the initial data from the placebo-controlled NIAID trial as well as data from the Gilead study of patients with moderate symptoms of COVID-19.
Wuhan has been conducting the research in Wuhan for more than 2 months.
In his letter, O'Day made the cancellation seem like no big deal. We suspect that framing was intended to placate Beijing.
Still, CNBC was still touting on Monday results from a different branch of preliminary remdesivir study in the West being supervised by Gilead. If this data are still so promising, why would China shut this trial down? The decision will likely delay the start of the next, more intensive, phase of clinical trials with control groups allowing for more definitive data, even as a more intensive study at the NIH in the US continues, with talk of 'approval' as early as May.
Referring to the preliminary results cited last week, analysts at RBC said "the data are likely not sufficient to convince people that this could substantially end the crisis, but enough to believe there is some chance remdesivir, along with other meds in development, could play a potential role helping somewhat blunt morbidity/mortality."
But why would Beijing want to block the US from developing an effective treatment for COVID-19? If party officials truly want the world to stop blaming them for the outbreak, shouldn't they be doing everything they can to help the world find a cure?
We'll let you figure that one out.