Authorities in the United States will allow the emergency use of Ebola drug remdesivir for treating patients with severe COVID-19.
The anti-viral drug was shown to help shorten the recovery time for people who were hospitalised with the coronavirus in recent clinical trials.
However the emergency authorisation by the Food and Drug Administration means usage has been rushed through without the usual higher levels of review medication goes through before it can be rolled out for treating the public.
Medical experts have since warned that the use of the Ebola drug, which is manufactured by Gilead pharmaceutical company, should not be seen as a “magic bullet” for COVID-19.
‘Important first step’
The company will donate 1.5 million doses of the drug to help during the crisis, in what Gilead Chief Executive Daniel O’Day said during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office was an “important first step”.
“It’s the first authorised therapy for Covid-19, so we’re really proud to be part of it,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, also present at the meeting, added.
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US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) found that remdesivir shortened the duration of symptoms suffered by patients with Covid-19 from 15 days to 11 during clinical trials on 1063 different people with the virus in hospitals around the world.
Head of NIAID, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that the use of remdesirvir had a “clear cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery”.
Even so, while the drug may speed up recovery, and potentially stop the need for some patients to be treated in intensive care, there was no clear evidence it could actually prevent further deaths from the virus.
On Saturday morning, 65,603 deaths from coronavirus have been confirmed in the US.
Meanwhile, in the UK, a potential treatment that uses plasma from recovered patients is being trialled at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London.
Transfusions are expected to begin in the next few weeks.
It is hoped that the “convalescent plasma” treatment will help patients whose bodies are failing to produce enough antibodies to fight Covid-19.
The NHS Blood and Transplant service is on standby to begin a national programme to deliver up to 10,000 units of convalescent plasma a week to the NHS if the treatment is proven to be effective.
That would be enough to treat 5,000 patients in hospital a week.