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As scientists race to develop a vaccine for coronavirus, the medication remdesivir is helping children and adults recover while they’re hospitalized with COVID-19. Early clinical trials show that the medication may shorten some people’s recovery times, too.
What Is Remdesivir?
Remdesivir is an investigational antiviral medicine used for COVID-19 patients whose symptoms require hospital care. Right now, the medication is investigational because it’s still being studied. This means we need more information about the safety and effectiveness of using remdesivir for COVID-19, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that the benefits of the medication outweigh the risks.
Because of the necessity for a COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir was the first medication to get emergency authorization from the FDA, specifically for people with severe cases of COVID-19. The FDA more recently expanded remdesivir use for all adults and children hospitalized with COVID-19, regardless of the severity of their illness.
While there are no medications currently approved to treat or prevent COVID-19, the FDA is allowing remdesivir to be used while additional clinical trials are underway.
An Older Medication’s Potential to Treat a New Illness
Remdesivir isn’t new. It was first developed more than a decade ago to fight hepatitis C and the Ebola virus, a deadly disease found mainly in West Africa. Remdesivir ultimately wasn’t useful in treating either condition, but the medicine showed some promise in laboratory and animal studies against two previously known coronaviruses — severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) — that are in the same family as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes COVID-19.
Although medications like remdesivir, may not work for their original intended purpose — hepatitis C and Ebola, in this case — they are often repurposed because information about their safety and effectiveness already exists.
How Remdesivir Works
Remdesivir works by inhibiting the ability of coronavirus to reproduce inside your body. If the medication can prevent coronavirus from making copies of itself, then the virus can’t spread throughout your body. At that point, the infection can go away. Remdesivir is given once daily through a needle in the skin (intravenously) for five to 10 days, depending upon the severity of a hospitalized patient’s condition.
Possible Side Effects of Remdesivir
Remdesivir is still being studied, so all the possible side effects are not known. The FDA reports one side effect may be increased liver enzyme levels, which may be a sign of inflammation or damage to cells in the liver. Other reactions may include low blood pressure, changes in heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, sweating and shivering.
Remdesivir Boosts COVID-19 Recovery and Survival Rates
A clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) found that remdesivir sped up recovery time for critically ill patients by four days. This study included a large group of patients who were receiving ventilation support to breathe while having severe COVID-19. Those taking remdesivir had a 31% faster time to recovery as compared with patients taking a placebo (a medication designed to have no real effect).
Remdesivir also increased patient survival, with a mortality rate of 8% for those receiving remdesivir versus 11.6% for the placebo group. But given the high mortality rate despite the use of remdesivir, researchers leading the study believe that COVID-19 treatment with the medication alone is not enough. They suggested evaluating whether remdesivir should be used in combination with other medications.
The Future of COVID-19 Treatment
The maker of remdesivir, the brand Veklury, announced in August 2020 that it would seek full FDA approval for the use of the medication to treat COVID-19. In addition to remdesivir, the FDA has authorized four other therapies for emergency use. Nearly 600 drug development programs are in the planning stages.
Staying Safe Until a Vaccine Is Available
Until a vaccine is widely available, basic steps like social distancing and wearing a mask are the best ways to protect yourself and everyone around you. Also, continue to practice the safety steps you already know, like:
Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily
Getting your annual flu shot
Staying at least 6 feet apart from anyone outside your household
Washing your hands often with soap and water or using sanitizer often
Wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose when around others
We’re Here for You and Your Family
As more information about remdesivir and other COVID-19 treatments becomes available, we’ll keep you informed, so you can make the best choices for yourself and your loved ones. Learn more about safety steps, care options, medications and more by visiting the Coronavirus Resource Hub.