Remdesivir drug fails to reduce mortality or hospital stay of COVID-19 patients, says WHO study

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  • Remdesivir has little or no effect on hospitalised COVID-19 patients, according to a new study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • When coronavirus pandemic initially broke, it emerged as one of the most preferred treatments for the disease around the world.
  • In July, Gilead released further data suggesting that Remdesivir may improve chances of survival among COVID-19 patients. However, these findings were not confirmed by a randomised controlled trial until now.
  • Even before WHO’s study, a Lancet report contradicted Gilead’s claims indicating that the drug may not be the most ‘promising’ treatment for coronavirus.
  • Not just Remdesivir, no repurposed drug or combination including Hydroxychloroquine reduced chances of death of a COVID-19 patient, according to the WHO study.
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Remdesivir, one of the earliest touted treatments for COVID-19 in the world, is not effective in preventing deaths of coronavirus patients, according to a study sponsored by the World Health Organisation study.

The results of the study — covering over 2,700 people for Remdesivir across 30 countries — were posted online on October 15 and are not peer-reviewed yet. The researchers tried to treat a patient with Remdesivir for 10 days, where each patient received a 200 milligrams (mg) dose on the first day and 100 mg doses on subsequent days.

“These Remdesivir, Hydroxychloroquine, Lopinavir and Interferon regimens appeared to have little or no effect on hospitalized COVID-19, as indicated by overall mortality, initiation of ventilation and duration of hospital stay,” noted the findings of the WHO’s Solidarity trial that was released on medRxiv.

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Gildead disagrees with WHO study
Remdesivir was originally developed by Gilead Sciences to treat the Ebola virus and Hepatitis C. The company has so far refuted all the claims made by the WHO study. It asserts that more rigorous studies have found Remdesivir beneficial.

“The emerging data appear inconsistent with more robust evidence from multiple randomised, controlled studies validating the clinical benefit of (Remdesivir),” Gilead said in a comment. WHO has not made in public comment since the study is not public yet.

Not just Remdesivir, no repurposed drug or combination including Hydroxychloroquine reduced chances of death of a COVID-19 patient, according to the WHO study.
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WHO study brings bad tidings for Remdesivir producers
Remdesivir is currently the only antiviral drug authorised for treating COVID-19 in the US. It was taken by US President Donald Trump when he was admitted to the hospital after testing positive for the virus.

India’s Health Ministry too approved the use of the drug to treat mild cases of coronavirus. However, the drug is not recommended to treat those who have several renal impairments, pregnant and lactating women, children below 12 years age.

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Cost of Remdesivir treatment in India
CompanyBrandCost of Therapy
HeteroCovifor₹32,400
CiplaCipremi₹24,000
Jubilant LifesciencesJUBI-R₹28,200
Cadila HealthcareRemdac₹16,800
Mylan Desrem₹28,800
Dr Reddy’s Redyx₹32,400
Source:Nomura report dated October, 2020.

There are six pharmaceutical giants in India — including Hetero Labs, Jubilant Lifesciences, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Biocon firm Syngene and Zydus Cadila Healthcare — who have signed a non-exclusive agreement with Gilead to produce Remdesivir.

The WHO study is likely to be a setback for all the pharmaceutical companies producing Remdesivir. The increasing number of cases in India drove the demand for Remdesivir. According to industry experts, Remdesivir was bringing in at least ₹6.5 million to ₹13 million in revenues per day at the current caseload.

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“Assuming 5% to 10% market share, we estimate current demand at 1,200 to 2,400 vials per day, which translates to ₹6.5 million to ₹ 13 million in revenues per day at the current caseload. We factor in ₹1.2 billion and ₹0.9 billion in sales from Remdesivir in FY21F and FY22F respectively,” a Nomura report dated October 2020 said.

WHO isn’t alone in its skepticism of Gilead’s Remdesivir
Remdesivir emerged as one of the most preferred treatments for COVID-19 — this new found disease that was threatening the world — largely driven by Gilead’s narrative.

Even before WHO’s study, a Lancet report contradicted the pharmaceutical giant’s claims indicating that Remedesivir may not be the most ‘promising’ treatment for coronavirus. It warned that Remdesivir provided no clinical benefits to patients who have tested for coronavirus.
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Despite the warnings, Gilead Sciences continue to claim Remdesivir as a plausible treatment for COVID-19. In July, Gilead released further data suggesting that it may improve chances of survival. However, these findings have not been confirmed by a randomised controlled trial until now.

“What all of us would like to see is what is frequently called a ‘magic bullet’; a drug that’s already in existence, that is safe and works effectively in patients. Unfortunately, in this case, this trial at least suggests the benefits of Remdesivir weren’t there at all,” Julie Fischer, an associate research professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University told Al Jazeera.

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