An experimental drug has proven effective in treating COVID-19 patients, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, announced Wednesday.
“Remdesivir has a clear-cut significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recover,” Fauci told reporters in the White House Oval Office. “A drug can block this virus.”
An international randomized placebo control trial at his institute started on Feb. 21 with hundreds of hospitalized coronavirus patients, said Fauci.
Recovery time was 11 days for those given the drug compared to 15 days for patients given a placebo, according to the NIAID.
“Whenever you have clear-cut evidence that a drug works, you have an ethical obligation to immediately let the people who are in the placebo group know so that they can have access and all of the other trials that are taking place now have a new standard of care,” Fauci told reporters.
Remdesivir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, is given intravenously and designed to interfere with an enzyme that reproduces viral genetic material. In animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, it has helped prevent infection and reduced severity of symptoms. But it is not yet approved anywhere in the world for any use.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was expected Wednesday to grant emergency use authorization for treatment of COVID-19 patients. Another study of Remdesivir had not reached a positive conclusion, something reporters asked Fauci about in the Oval Office.
“It’s an under-powered study,” said Fauci of a study out of China published in The Lancet that found Remdesivir was not effective in treating COVID-19 patients. “That’s not an adequate study.”
COVID-19 has killed more than 224,000 people worldwide, including nearly 60,000 in the United States.
Total U.S. confirmed infections exceed one million – the most reported by any country in the world.
“That’s a tremendous amount,” U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday, calling it an “indication that our testing is so superior.”
To think that the United States has more cases than China, “does anybody really believe that?” added Trump.
He again blamed China, where the coronavirus was first reported, and the World Health Organization, for the pandemic.
“They misled us,” said Trump of the WHO, calling it “literally a pipe organ for China.”
“They’re not to be congratulated for what took place and WHO is essentially congratulating them,” Trump told reporters. “And when they start doing that we’ve got problems.”
The president earlier this month halted U.S. funding to the organization, which annually totals $400 million to $500 million. The WHO has said it is working with its partners to fill the financial gap from the Trump administration’s decision to withhold the money.
The United States is WHO’s largest donor.
“We can give it to groups that are very worthy and get much more bang for your buck. We’re going to make a decision in the not-too-distant future,” Trump said.