June 22 (UPI) -- Gilead Sciences plans to start clinical trials for an inhaled version of the antiviral remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19, company officials said Monday.
The inhaled form is delivered using a nebulizer -- similar to many asthma drugs -- making it easier to administer outside of a hospital at earlier stages of infection, they said.
To date, patients infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, receive the drug via intravenous, or IV, injection in a hospital or clinic.
"For patients who are at high risk of disease progression, it could be particularly beneficial to start treatment outside the hospital," Gilead CEO Daniel O'Day said in an open letter posted on the company's web site.
"Our hope is that earlier intervention could help patients avoid hospitalization altogether," he said.
Remdesivir has been the focus on global clinical trials in patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, since March. It was originally developed to treat Ebola virus.
Trials of the IV form of the drug have produced mostly positive results, researchers have reported, suggesting it helps hospitalized patients recover from COVID-19 faster.
Gilead will begin screening patients for the Phase I clinical trial -- the first step in evaluating a drug before it is approved for use -- this week, O'Day said. The company expects to begin the trials in August, he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved IV remdesivir for emergency use in May after a National Institutes of Health-funded study showed it helped patients reduce recovery times by an average of four days.
The company also plans to conduct trials of the IV form in "outpatient settings" such as infusion centers and nursing homes, O'Day said.
The new trial will also study the use of remdesivir in children and in combination with two other drugs known as "immune modulators," he said. Gilead expects to produce more than 2 million treatment courses of the drug by the end of this year, according to O'Day.
"Our best hope of beating COVID-19 is with a set of tools at our disposal: complementary therapeutics, effective vaccines and widespread testing," he said.