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Early tests show experimental drug remdesivir might be effective against COVID-19

Manuel Castro, a nurse from Ontario, Calif., says remdesivir seemed to turn his COVID-19 complications around, a result echoed in a recently leaked study.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The stock price for Gilead Sciences Inc. rose nearly 10% Friday after reports emerged that the company's drug, remdesivir, showed promise in treating COVID-19.

Manuel Castro, 33, knows first hand about the drug. He says he was recently part of a study that supplied him the antiviral drug after he suffered from complications from COVID-19 and was placed on a respirator for days.

"At that point, I was not getting any better," Castro explained. "And it was kind of like the last hoorah of what they can do for me."

While he can't say for sure it saved his life, he doesn't think his recovery would have been as good without it.

"It seemed to turn me around, so I'm pretty lucky I was able to get it," Castro said.

Dr. Payal Kohli, a cardiology specialist in Denver, has looked into the data behind remdesivir, a drug that was used fight Ebola.

RELATED: Nurse was close to death until he was given experimental coronavirus drug

Dr. Kohli said that in 2014 when the drug was introduced, officials found that the while the drug wasn't effective against Ebola, "it’s relatively safe and relatively well-tolerated" in the human body.

Dr. Kohli said the drug has recently been showing promise in the lab against COVID-19.

"In a test tube, remdesivir can actually block viral replication," said Dr. Kohli.

There are two studies showing promising data in the real world — one from the New England Journal of Medicine and another from the University of Chicago.

The data set from the New England Journal of Medicine looked at dozens of patients and found that "two-thirds of them actually had improvement in their oxygen class relatively quickly," Dr. Kohli explained. "Meaning they needed less oxygen and only 18% of them ended up dying."

While that may sound like a high number, Dr. Kohli explained historical controls show that people who are critically ill, especially those on a ventilator, have a higher mortality rate.

RELATED: Early results for Gilead coronavirus drug show patients recovering quickly

The other data set comes from early results leaked from a clinical trial that is still going on at the University of Chicago, which has roughly 125 patients, 113 of which were severely ill.

The study has so far shown that giving people remdesivir "resulted in faster recovery, temperature curve coming down, respiratory status getting better and most people actually went home in under a week after receiving the medication," explained Dr. Kohli.

Still, she cautions people to not jump to conclusions citing the small size of the studies and the lack of data still available.

"Take it with a little grain of salt, because the study hasn't been completed yet and this data was leaked out inadvertently," Dr. Kohli cautioned. "But both of these findings do give us a little bit of promise that this drug may have some clinical efficacy."

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Mike Duffy.


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