Another speedbump has emerged in the drive to produce reliable COVID-19 therapeutics as a highly anticipated WHO drug trial called Solidarity found that Gilead's COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir, had no substantial effect on a COVID-19 patient's chances of survival. It also found that three other therapeutics were similarly ineffective.
The FT called the data a "significant blow" to efforts to find a drug that could help save late-stage COVID-19 patients. What's more, none of the drugs "substantially affected mortality" or reduce the need to ventilate patients.
Other drugs examined in the trial included hydroxychloroquine, lopnavir and interferon regimes. All of them had "little effect" on hospitalized patients.
Along with failing to lower mortality, the results showed the drugs had little effect on how long patients stayed in the hospital.
The disappointing results appear to contradict widely hyped results from an earlier trial in April which appeared to show that the drug reduced recovery time from 15 to 11. Gilead later released data suggesting the vaccine might lower incidence of death, but that finding has not been confirmed in randomized trials.
Traders will recall that Gilead's press releases touting inconclusive data helped pump the company's stock in the spring. Since then, the treatment has been given to President Trump, though the president credited an antibody therapy from Regeneron as the drug that made the difference, calling it a "cure".
Despite all this, the drug was given preliminary approval in both the US and the UK, and earlier in October the EU signed a deal to supply up to 500,000 treatments courses of the drug, with an option to add more. Now, it looks like the drug is potentially useless, showing the limitations of this strategy.
Gilead released the following comment to the FT.
"We are aware that initial data from the World Health Organization's (WHO) SOLIDARITY Trial has been made public prior to publication in a peer-reviewed journal," Gilead said in response to a request for comment. "The emerging data appear inconsistent with more robust evidence from multiple randomized, controlled studies validating the clinical benefit of [remdesivir]."
One expert quoted by the FT, which published leaked data (the WHO refused to comment on the grounds that the results hadn't been formally released), said that a trial as large as Solidarity would have discovered a therapeutic benefit "if one existed". The remdesivir arm of the trial involved 2,750 patients.
A US NIH study published last week found that the drug may have helped reduce hospital stays by as many as 5 days, but there was no discernible impact on mortality.
The findings make us wonder: why were all those 'experts' so optimistic about remdesivir in the first place?