(Reuters)—A key U.S. government trial of Gilead Sciences Inc.’s experimental coronavirus treatment may yield results as early as mid-May, according to the study’s lead investigator, after doctors clamored to enroll their patients in the study.
Preliminary findings from the randomized trial of the antiviral drug remdesivir, begun in February by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), could come even sooner, lead researcher Dr. Andre Kalil told Reuters in an interview.
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new virus that has killed over 190,000 people globally, according to a Reuters tally.
Remdesivir has drawn tremendous attention as a therapy with the potential to alter the course of the disease, based on anecdotal reports that it may have helped some patients.
Those hopes were dampened somewhat on Thursday, when details from a Chinese remdesivir trial in patients with severe COVID-19 inadvertently released by the World Health Organization suggested it provided no benefit.
Gilead pushed back on that interpretation saying the study, which was stopped early due to low patient enrollment, cannot provide meaningful conclusions.
Other reports have provided reason for optimism.
Doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital told Reuters that since March 23, they have treated 41 mostly severely ill COVID-19 patients with the drug. None have died and half are back home.
But they and other doctors contacted by Reuters said they need much more information than the few details available from the Chinese trial and anecdotal reports on its emergency use in the United States to form a view on remdesivir.
They emphasized a need to see how patients on remdesivir fare compared to those who do not receive the therapy in a rigorous clinical trial at different stages of illness to know whether and under what circumstances it may provide benefit.
The NIAID trial “has all the necessary scientific standards that are really going to help us define if this drug works or not,” says Dr. Kalil, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
It is a randomized, double-blind study in which half the patients were given the drug and the other half a placebo. Enrollment in the trial closed on Sunday, but has far exceeded initial goals of 400 to 500 patients, he said.
The investigator would not disclose total enrollment, but the latest public update says trial size may exceed 800 patients.
The NIAID trial is designed to show whether remdesivir, when given to patients with a range of disease severity, improves outcomes such as length of hospitalization, need for mechanical ventilation and survival. Dr. Kalil declined to comment on precisely how much of an improvement on those metrics is needed to deem the trial a success and the drug a viable treatment.