An antiviral drug, remdesivir, which was originally thought to be effective against Ebola and hepatitis, has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat those who are critically ill due to coronavirus disease. Results from a study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed that COVID-19 patients who took remdesivir usually recovered after 11 days, four days faster than those who didnâ€™t take the drug. This has brought the drug into focus as scientists across the world are searching for a better way to treat the disease and have raised several concerns about the effectiveness of the drug.
With respect to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the drug first received attention after a study in China was conducted to determine if it was effective in decreasing the time it took for people to recover from COVID-19. The study which was produced by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences reported that the use of intravenous remdesivir did not have a significant impact on the recovery time, mortality rate or even on the viral load in patients who were critically ill with the disease, when compared to those who received a placebo.
However, on Wednesday, American health advisor Dr Anthony Fauci stated that a recent study conducted by the US showed that the drug had a â€śsignificant, positiveâ€ť effect on recovery time.
What is remdesivir and how does it work?
Remdesivir is an antiviral drug manufactured by the biotech company Gilead Sciences which is based out of Foster City, California in the US. It works by targeting an enzyme found in the virus, called RNA polymerase, which plays a role in how the virus replicates and makes more copies.
In order to survive, viruses must find a host cell and take over the cellâ€™s replication process. It thereby incorporates its own genetic material into the host cell. As the cell continues to divide and replicate, the viral genetic material (which is in the form of RNA not DNA in the coronavirus) too, then gets replicated.
Remdesivir affects an enzyme involved in replication, thereby preventing the virusâ€™ genes from being spread further. This, in theory, contributes to an overall decrease in the viral load.
The FDA has noted that the drug has been found to have effects in cell cultures against SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2.
â€śThe drug has been introduced only on a trial basis in the US, however we still need more information before it can be considered for mainstream use to treat those affected with COVID-19,â€ť states Dr Nagaraja, Director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases in Bengaluru, adding that there needs to be more concrete evidence before the drug can be considered for widespread use in India.
He notes that the trials conducted in China and the US both, looked at a small group in comparison to the numbers required before the drug can be considered for use as a treatment.
However other countries, such as Japan are looking into the effects of remdesivir on COVID-19 positive patients. Officials in Japan have started the process to approve the use of remdesivir for COVID-19. It is expected that the approval will be received in a week, following which it will be used for treating COVID-19 affected individuals.