April 23 (UPI) -- The antiviral drug remdesivir -- touted as a potential treatment for COVID-19 since early March -- did not improve symptoms or prevent death in patients with the disease, according to the preliminary results from a clinical trial in China.
The findings of the highly anticipated study were apparently posted, in error, to the World Health Organization website on Thursday, before they were quickly taken down, STAT and the Financial Times reported.
Roughly 14 percent of the COVID-19 patients in the study who received remdesivir ultimately died, compared to approximately 13 percent of those not given the drug, both outlets reported -- a difference that is not "statistically significant."
A spokeswoman for Gilead Sciences, makers of remdesivir, indicated to STAT that the WHO posting "included inappropriate characterization of the study." The study was stopped early because it had too few patients, she said, so it cannot yield "statistically meaningful conclusions," she said.
Still, "trends in the data suggest a potential benefit for remdesivir, particularly among patients treated early in disease," the spokeswoman, Amy Flood, added.
The antiviral is actually one of several possible treatments under evaluation for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Others include the anti-malarial drug chloroquine, the HIV/AIDS combination regimen lopinavir/ritonavir/nelfinavir, and the hepatitis C treatment ribavirin.
Until now, remdesivir had produced at least promising results. For example, a small study involving 53 people with severe illness, published earlier this month by the New England Journal of Medicine, found that two thirds of those in the study saw improvement in their respiratory symptoms and nearly half recovered sufficiently to be discharged from the hospital.
Given the incomplete nature of the study posted -- briefly -- today, it's unlikely that the book on remdesivir as a possible treatment for COVID-19 is closed. Gilead is in the midst of two much larger clinical trials of the drug, including one being done in conjunction with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"A draft document was provided by the authors to WHO and inadvertently posted on the website and taken down as soon as the mistake was noticed," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told STAT. "The manuscript is undergoing peer review and we are waiting for a final version before WHO comments."
Trading was briefly halted on Gilead's stock after the draft was published, and while the stock's price did not rebound, analysts said the company's statement helped to steady trading.