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WHO advises against using antiviral drug remdesivir for COVID-19

By
Don Jacobson
The Gilead campus in Foster City, Calif., is seen on April 23. The company said Friday it is disappointed with the conclusion of the World Health Organization. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
The Gilead campus in Foster City, Calif., is seen on April 23. The company said Friday it is "disappointed" with the conclusion of the World Health Organization. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization has recommended against using the antiviral drug remdesivir to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients, regardless of the severity of their illness.

The WHO's Guideline Development Group panel of international experts made the recommendation Thursday in updated medical guidelines published in the British medical journal The BMJ.

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"After thoroughly reviewing this evidence, the WHO GDG expert panel, which includes experts from around the world including four patients who have had COVID-19, concluded that remdesivir has no meaningful effect on mortality or on other important outcomes for patients, such as the need for mechanical ventilation or time to clinical improvement," they wrote.

Remdesivir, a costly experimental antiviral drug and one of the first treatments to emerge for COVID-19, is produced in a collaboration between Gilead Sciences, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

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After first being used to against the Ebola virus in 2014, remdesivir was tested in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Early evidence suggested that it could shorten recovery times for severely ill hospitalized patients.

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The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved an emergency use authorization to a combination of remdesivir and the rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib to treat COVID-19. President Donald Trump was given multiple doses after he was hospitalized in October.

Treatment with the drug, however, has not yet been proven to save significantly more lives than standard medical care, and evidence is mixed on whether it leads to any clinical improvement, The BMJ study said.

RELATED FDA approves remdesivir to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients

Interim results from WHO's 30-country "Solidarity" clinical trial have shown remdesivir has no significant impact on mortality, length of hospital stay or need for ventilation among hospitalized patients.

"[Remdesivir] is recognized as a standard of care for the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in guidelines from numerous credible national organizations, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Infectious Diseases Society of America, Japan, U.K. and Germany," Gilead Sciences told CNBC.

"We are disappointed the WHO guidelines appear to ignore this evidence at a time when cases are dramatically increasing," added Gilead spokesman Chris Ridley.

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RELATED WHO study says remdesivir has 'little or no effect' on COVID-19

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