Breakthrough as drug trial for COVID-19 launches at Northwestern Medicine

Chief of Infectious Diseases Dr Babafemi Taiwo (Phote credit: Bruce Powell)

A drug to ‘cure’ COVID-19 could be in sight, as Northwestern Medicine has enrolled its first participants in a new international clinical drug trial for the virus.

Remdesivir is a novel antiviral drug that was developed to treat Ebola and has subsequently been found in animal models to have antiviral activity against coronaviruses including MERS and now SARS-Cov-2.

The randomized, placebo-controlled trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health and will evaluate the safety and efficacy of the drug in hospitalised adult patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

An 89-year old man, who is currently in intensive care is the first Chicago-area patient to enroll in the trial at Northwestern Medicine.

Dr. Babafemi Taiwo, chief of infectious diseases and the principal investigator at Northwestern University said: “His family was very excited about it.”

“I think it’s fantastic this trial is off the ground.It puts something in our hands that we can investigate rigorously, in a quest for therapies that may be effective and widely adopted to treat the pandemic,” said Taiwo.

He added: Before the clinical trial, remdesivir was used to treat a handful of patients on a compassionate access program basis. it's too early to say if there is an effect because some of them are still receiving treatment.”

Participants in the trial will receive either a placebo drug or remdesivir intravenously once a day for a maximum of 10 days. If a patient recovers sooner, the treatment will be stopped.

About 50 sites around the country will enrol 440 patients in the trial and the patient will be evaluated for 30 days.

While the study will last three years, the results may come in sooner Taiwo said.

In four studies of healthy people and participants in Ebola trials in Africa, the drug led to elevation of liver function tests in some recipients, meaning the liver has to be carefully monitored. This effect was transient. Other participants had some abnormality in blood clotting tests and gastrointestinal side effects. None of these were serious.

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