Remdesivir speeds up COVID-19 recovery

Andre Kalil, MD

With COVID-19 affecting more than 3 million people worldwide, scientists across the world are looking for a treatment. Nebraska Medicine has been playing a critical role in that search, and there's finally some good news. Early results show patients who received the drug remdesivir recovered faster than patients who received a placebo.

The National Institute of Health established a clinical trial to study remdesivir. The trial was the first launched in the U.S. to evaluate experimental COVID-19 treatments, and remdesivir was the first drug studied. The trial began Feb. 21 at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It was a randomized, controlled trial, involving 1,063 patients. The first participant was an American brought to Nebraska from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Eventually, a total of 450 people across 68 sites participated in the study. The United States is home to 47 of those sites, with the remaining 21 sites spread out across Europe and Asia. 

Andre Kalil, MD, a Nebraska Medicine infectious diseases and critical care physician, has been leading the trial at UNMC. 

"My colleagues and I are pleased to be part of this study which is showing good preliminary results," says Dr. Kalil. "We all are working diligently and swiftly to do the science in the appropriate way to help in this pandemic. It also gives us hope that soon this drug may be used widely."

Remdesivir is an antiviral treatment given daily for 10 days. It has shown promise in animal models for treating COVID-19 and has been examined in other clinical trials.

An independent data and safety monitoring board overseeing the trial met April 27 to review the study data. Based upon their review, they noted:

  • Remdesivir was better than placebo for time to recovery, a metric often used in influenza trials
  • Recovery in this study was defined as being well enough for hospital discharge or returning to normal activity level
  • Preliminary results indicate that patients who received remdesivir had a 31% faster time to recovery than those who received the placebo (no treatment)
  • Specifically, the median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with remdesivir, compared with 15 days for those who received the placebo
  • Results also suggested better survival, with a mortality rate of 8% for the group receiving remdesivir, versus 11.6% for the placebo group

More detailed trial results will be available soon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is having ongoing discussions with Gilead Sciences, the company developing the drug. They are committed to speeding up the development of potential COVID-19 treatments, and hope to make remdesivir available to patients soon. The trial closed to new enrollments April 19.