Firm known for HIV treatment set to begin live test of coronavirus drug

Updated February 05, 2020

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Although the company said it was not doing these tests for profit, the news sent Gilead’s stock up by as much as 13 percent in premarket trading. — AP
Although the company said it was not doing these tests for profit, the news sent Gilead’s stock up by as much as 13 percent in premarket trading. — AP

WASHINGTON: A US biotech firm Gilead has reached an agreement with China to try its antiviral drug Rem­desivir on patients with coronavirus.

Gilead is known for its HIV and hepatitis C treatments but its efforts to find a cure for the deadly respiratory disease drew attention when a US medical journal carried a case report earlier this week.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the condition of a coronavirus patient in Washington state began to improve after he was given Remdesivir.

The Journal is among the most prestigious medical publications as well as the oldest continuously published.

“Gilead is working with health autho­rities in China to establish a rando­mi­s­­ed, controlled trial to determine whe­ther Remdesivir can safely and effectively be used to treat 2019-nCoV (coronavirus),” the company announced.

“Gilead has provided Remdesivir for use in a small number of patients with 2019-nCoV for emergency treatment in the absence of any approved treatment options,” the statement added.

Gilead said it was also expediting appropriate laboratory testing of Rem­desivir against 2019-nCoV samples.

While there are no antiviral data that show activity against 2019-nCoV, Remd­esivir has demonstrated in vitro and in vivo activity in animal models against the viral pathogens MERS and SARS, coronaviruses structurally similar to 2019-nCoV. There are also limited clinical data available from the emergency use of Remdesivir in the treatment of patients with Ebola virus infection.

Although the company said it was not doing these tests for profit, the news sent Gilead’s stock up by as much as 13 percent in premarket trading.

Gilead, however, cautioned the general public that Remdesivir was still in testing stages and was not yet licensed or approved anywhere globally.

The US media noted that the arrangement between Gilead and the Chinese government was unusual and showed how the situation had forced both to go for an unconventional approach.

Beside Gilead, other biotech companies — such as Johnson & Johnson, Inovia Pharmaceuticals and Moderna Therapeutics — are also working on various experimental drugs to find a cure for this acute respiratory disease.

AFP adds: The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday that the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus, which has spread from China to two dozen countries, does not yet constitute a “pandemic”.

“Currently we are not in a pandemic,” Sylvie Briand, head of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, told reporters in Geneva.

Instead, she said, “we are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci.” The disease has killed more than 425 people and infected a further 20,000 in China, nearly all of them in central Hubei province — the epicentre of the outbreak — and spread to two-dozen countries since it emerged in December.

Briand said that while there is rapid spread of transmission in Hubei, outside the province there are mainly “spillover cases” with sporadic clusters of transmission.

“In these other places in China, the strategy currently is to stop transmission,” she said, adding that the same was true for affected countries outside of China. “We would like to make sure that we don’t have a second Hubei type of scenario,” she said.

“Countries are implementing early case detection, early isolation and treatment of patients, contact tracing to make sure they identify very early contacts that become symptomatic,” Briand pointed out. “We hope that based on ... measures in Hubei but also in other places where we have had spillover, we can stop transmission and get rid of this virus,” she said.

She acknowledged that halting the spread of the new pneumonia-like virus would be “challenging”.

“I am not saying it is easy, but ... we believe that it can be done,” she said.'

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2020