Dispensed: A week of drug developments, the plan to restart hospitals, and some non-coronavirus news

Dispensed: A week of drug developments, the plan to restart hospitals, and some non-coronavirus news
Samantha Lee/Business Insider


Dispensed: A week of drug developments, the plan to restart hospitals, and some non-coronavirus news
Hospitals are thinking through how to restart elective procedures.Associated Press


Welcome to Dispensed, Business Insider's weekly healthcare newsletter, in which we're contemplating how it could possibly already be May. I looked at my calendar this morning and calculated that I've been doing this work-from-home/social distancing thing for 51 days here in Brooklyn.

Outside, New York is planning out how it might reopen —at least in some regions, as Jeremy Berke reports. Among the changes: Subways that are shut down overnight. That way, they can be disinfected daily. Does anybody else get weirdly nostalgic for public transportation?


Before I jump into the big headlines for this week: Are you new to the newsletter? You can sign up here.

Dispensed: A week of drug developments, the plan to restart hospitals, and some non-coronavirus news
Data coming out on remdesivir, an experimental antiviral coronavirus treatment, was the biggest story in healthcare this week.Associated Press

Coronavirus drug developments

In Dispensed, I've been talking for weeks about how treatments and vaccines will be critical to reopening the country and getting out from under this pandemic. We still have no treatments that have been approved for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

This week in particular, there were a lot of developments on the treatment front, and Andrew Dunn was there to cover it all.

Monday morning, we learned that Kevzara, an anti-inflammatory arthritis drug made by Regeneron, suffered a setback, with researchers narrowing their scope to only the sickest COVID-19 patients. Full results from that trial are due out in June.

Also on Monday, we spoke to researchers based out of Northwell Health here in New York who are studying whether high doses of famotidine — you might know it as the heartburn medication Pepcid — might help in treating severely ill COVID-19 patients.


Before you make a run for the medication: Keep in mind, they're administering a high dose to hospitalized patients intravenously for seven to 10 days. And there's no evidence yet that it works.

You can read more about the famotidine trial here.

It's one of dozens of drugs being repurposed to treat the coronavirus, along with the antimalarial medication hydroxychloroquine and the experimental antiviral remdesivir that was initially developed to treat Ebola (more on that in a minute)

There are also efforts to find new medications to treat COVID-19, Andrew reports.

One effort he covered this week is the race to find antibody therapeutics. There are drugs that use the body's own disease-fighting proteins (antibodies) as a way to treat people sickened with the novel coronavirus. They could be available as soon as this fall.


You can read more about the antibody drug development efforts underway here.

OK, now back to remdesivir. This was a pretty big week for the experimental drug.

On Wednesday, we got an initial look at the best data yet on remdesivir, which is made by biotech giant Gilead.

An NIH found that hospitalized patients who got the drug recovered 31% faster than those taking the placebo. A study run by Gilead also had some promising results — but it didn't have a control arm, which is important to determining whether a medication works.

Andrew has the full story on all the data we got on Wednesday here.


If you're curious about what's next for remdesivir, Andrew's got you covered with everything we know about the drug. (If you're new to BI Prime, use my link here to get 20% off your BI Prime subscription.)

Now, researchers are looking at whether the drug could be used in combination with others— similar to the antiviral therapies used to treat HIV, Andrew reports.

If you're wondering: "How much will remdesivir cost?" I'm right there with you. We're talking about a new drug that's never been approved and that has a pretty extensive manufacturing process.

Gilead execs managed to dodge questions about their pricing strategy on a call with investors Thursday, beyond saying they want to make the drug affordable.

Phew. That's a lot of updates. But if you only read one story this week about the rush to develop treatments for coronavirus, let it be this. Andrew reflected on the researcher being done to vet new drugs and what happened with Ebola drug development. He's worried we're going down a similar road.


You can read the full story here:

We're repeating one of the worst mistakes of the Ebola outbreak in the hunt for a coronavirus cure

Dispensed: A week of drug developments, the plan to restart hospitals, and some non-coronavirus news
A healthcare worker takes a nose-swab sample at a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle.AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

May will be a critical month for hospitals looking to resume elective surgeries

If you asked me a few weeks ago whether I thought NYC was just the first of many cities to be hammered in this initial coronavirus wave, I would've said "yes." Now, it seems like efforts to flatten the curve have kept that from happening, especially out on the West Coast.

Now, health systems are trying to figure out what a "new normal" looks like, keeping in mind the reality that there'll still be COVID-19 patients in hospital for months if not years to come.

One element that might stick around: Virtual visits with doctors. Yesterday, I hosted a webinar for Business Insider's Spotlight series in which we discussed what's ahead for the telemedicine industry with Amwell and Ochsner Health.

Yeji Lee has the story on some of the most interesting parts of our conversation, and why the execs there think "The world will never be the same."

Kimberly Leonard and I spoke with hospitals around the US — Northwell here in New York, Providence St. Joseph Health on the West Coast, and the Cleveland Clinic — about what reopening might look like. In some cases, surgeries are about to resume. For others, that's still a few weeks out.


Either way, PSJH CEO Rod Hochman told me, it'll be important from a financial perspective to get hospitals back up and running, beyond treating COVID-19 patients.

"If we just stay locked down in our hospitals the way we are through the end of May, there wouldn't be much to come back to," he said.

Testing patients for coronavirus will be a big piece of reopening hospitals to elective surgeries.

You can read the full story here:

Hospitals in Seattle, New York, and Cleveland share their plans to restart surgeries and procedures after battling the coronavirus pandemic

Dispensed: A week of drug developments, the plan to restart hospitals, and some non-coronavirus news

The struggle hitting mental health

We've talked a lot about physical health as it relates to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But on the mental health front, the pandemic is presenting real challenges too, Kimberly reports.

She spoke with mental health clinics about how they're navigating the pandemic with phone visits in the absence of in-person appointments. Advocates are asking for nearly $40 billion in financial relief.


You can read the full story here:

'We were already in crisis': Mental health clinics are switching to phone visits and struggling to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, just as more people need help

In non-coronavirus news...

The world of healthcare funding and deals is still bustling it appears, even amid a pandemic. My colleague Tyler Sonnemaker had the scoop on Tomorrow Health, a startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz that's betting it can change how people shop for medical equipment.

Read more about the investment here.

And in light of the Supreme Court's decision Monday on risk corridors (remember those?) I wrote about how much money venture-backed Oscar Health stands to make in payments from its participation in the individual exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act from 2014-2016.

Read on to see how it stands to make hundreds of millions from the Supreme Court decision.

Have any insights/concerns about your hospitals' plans to restart surgery? Thoughts on which drug might save the day in coronavirus (if any)? You can each me at lramsey@businessinsider.com, or the entire team at healthcare@businessinsider.com.


See you next week!

- Lydia

Read the original article on Business Insider