North Bay Specialist: Possible COVID Treatment "Promising"

Late last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval for hospitals to use the drug remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Gary Green is an infectious disease specialist at Sutter Health in Santa Rosa.

He told KCBS Radio remdesivir is the only one of several drugs tested on COVID-19 patients lately that shows promise, having participated in trials involving the drug himself.

"I’ve noticed that patients’ fevers go away, their blood pressure improves, their oxygen requirements are improved, so I think the drug is going to be very helpful and now we know it has a survival benefit," Dr. Green said.

The FDA said in a statement that the intravenous drug would be specifically indicated for hospitalized patients with "severe disease," such as those experiencing breathing problems requiring supplemental oxygen or ventilators. The FDA went on to explain preliminary results for federal researchers warranted Friday's decision, though regulators acknowledged "there is limited information known about the safety and effectiveness of using remdesivir."

The drug is produced by Gilead Science, a company based in Foster City.

Executives from Gilead visited with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others, in the Oval Office on Friday.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 1: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens to Gilead Sciences Chairman and CEO Daniel O'Day during an announcement that the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency approval for the antiviral drug remdesivir in the Oval Office.
Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Remdesivir reduced the recovery period for most COVID-19 patients from an average of 15 to 11 days.

Dr. Green said the drug appears most effective in critically-ill patients and could slow the overall fatality rate.

"I think using this drug early will be very important and now that our testing abilities are improved, we get tests back quickly and we can start patients on medication quickly," Dr. Green said.

The National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Fauci said Wednesday the drug would become a new standard of care for severely ill COVID-19 patients. The drug, which blocks an enzyme the virus uses to copy its genetic material, has not been tested on people with milder illness.

Dr. Green said it’s not likely someone with mild symptoms would be given the drug.

"The question is how frail are they to recover from the disease, and intuition tells us very likely that if you start the drug early you can stop the virus before it gets to its peak," Dr. Green said.

Remdesivir is only administered intravenously and in a hospital setting.

The FDA previously allowed narrow use of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, for hospitalized patients who were unable to take part in ongoing studies of the medication. President Trump repeatedly promoted it as a possible COVID-19 treatment, but no large high-quality studies have shown the drug works for that and it has significant safety concerns.