Oregon health officials say they are ready to start distributing an experimental drug that has shown early promise for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.
The antiviral drug remdesivir has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but is being distributed as part of a federal emergency authorization.
In an early trial by the National Institutes of Health, remdesivir sped up recovery of patients with severe COVID-related lung disease by about 30%. Instead of a median recovery period of 15 days, the patients in the trial recovered in 11 days.
The Oregon Health Authority received doses for 80 people. Officials say the drug will be made available statewide for patients who meet the clinical criteria. This more than covers the current number of severe COVID-19 patients as of Saturday, although hospitalizations are expected to increase as Oregon relaxes social distancing measures. State health officials say they anticipate receiving additional allotments of the drug in the future.
The decision of whether to use the drug will be made by the patient and their physician.
Remdesivir is made by the biotech company Gilead. The company continues to push clinical trails forward in hopes to get broader FDA approval.
“The emergency use authorization is temporary and based on temporary evidence, but this is as good as it gets right now in this precarious situation that we don’t have any knowledge about other medications working,” said Tobias Pusch, an infectious disease physician at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland.
Providence St. Vincent and Providence Portland hospitals are participating in larger clinical trials for remdesivir. Those trials will run through the end of May.
“We treat it sort of as an official medication for the time being, understanding that more evidence will have to come out, and will come out, to solidify our knowledge,” he said.
Remdesivir used in the drug trials are not part of the same supply received and distributed by the Oregon Health Authority under the Emergency Use Authorization.
Pusch said that once the current trials are complete, the hospital is considering a second remdesivir trial that will test its effectiveness in combination with another drug.