Coronavirus Pandemic: Early Data Shows Anti-Viral Drug Effective Against COVID-19

Stocks surged on Friday after a report said a Gilead Sciences antiviral drug showed some effectiveness in treating the coronavirus, giving investors hope that a treatment solution could help the country reopen faster from the widespread shutdowns that have plunged the economy into a recession. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 704.81 points (3 percent) to 24,242.49 — the Dow's first close above 24,000 since March 10, CNBC reported. The S&P 500 closed 2.7 percent higher at 2,874.56 while the Nasdaq Composite jumped 1.4 percent to 8,650.14.

Gilead shares jumped 9.7 percent after STAT news reported that a Chicago hospital treating coronavirus patients with remdesivir in a trial were recovering rapidly from severe symptoms. The clinical trial saw rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms, with nearly all patients discharged in less than a week.

Remdesivir was one of the first medicines identified as having the potential to impact SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in lab tests. The world is waiting for results from Gilead's clinical trials, and positive results would likely lead to fast approval by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies. If remdesivir is safe and effective, it could become the first approved treatment against the disease.

The University of Chicago Medicine recruited 125 people with COVD-19 into Gilead's two Phase 3 clinical trials. Of those people, 113 had severe disease. All the patients have been treated with daily infusions of remdesivir.

Kathleen Mullane, the University of Chicago infectious disease specialist overseeing the studies, said that they have seen only two patients treated with the medication die. "The best news is that most of our patients have already been discharged, which is great. We've only had two patients perish," Mullane said during a video discussion about the trial results with other University of Chicago faculty members. The discussion was recorded and STAT news obtained a copy.

But it's important to note the outcomes offer just a small glimpse of remdesivir's effectiveness. The same trials are being run concurrently at other institutions, so it's difficult to determine the full study results with certainty. But no other clinical data from the Gilead studies have been released to date, giving a ray of hope and excitement to researchers. Last month, President Donald Trump touted the potential for remdesivir — as he has for many still unproven treatments — and said it "seems to have a very good result."

In a statement on Thursday, Gilead said, "What we can say at this stage is that we look forward to data from ongoing studies becoming available." Gilead had said to expect results for its trial involving severe cases in April. Mullane said that data for the first 400 patients in the study would be "locked" by Gilead last Thursday, meaning that results could come any day.

The University of Chicago Medicine said "drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scienficailly unsound." Mullane also made her own hesitancy clear. "It's always hard," she said, because the trial doesn't include a placebo group for comparison. "But certainly when we start [the drug], we see fever curves falling. Fever is now not a requirement for people to go on trial, we do see when patients do come in with high fevers, they do [reduce] quite quickly. We have seen people come off ventilators a day after starting therapy. So, in that realm, overall our patients have done very well."

Gilead's severe COVID-19 study includes 2,400 participants from 152 different clinical trial sites all over the world. Its moderate COVID-19 study includes 1,600 patients in 169 different centers all over the world. The trial investigates five- and 10-day treatment courses of remdesivir with the primary goal a statistical comparison of patient improvement between the two treatment arms.

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Slawomir Michalak, a 57-year-old factory worker from a Chicago suburb, was among the participants in the Chicago study. He was admitted to the University of Chicago Medicine hospital on Friday, April 3 after he came down with a high fever and shortness of breath following his daughter's COVID-19 diagnosis. He agreed to participate in the severe COVID-19 trial, and received his first transfusion of remdesivir on Saturday, April 4. "My fever dropped almost immediately and I started to feel better," he said.

By his second dose on Sunday, he said he was being weaned off oxygen. He received two more daily infusions and recovered enough to be discharged on Tuesday, April 7. "Remdesvir was a miracle," Michalak said.