It’s a glimmer of hope in the fight against the coronavirus. Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, has shown real promise in speeding up the recovery time for COVID-19 patients.
It’s one of a number of treatments as well as vaccines that scientists and doctors are now investigating. One COVID-19 patient who took part in its clinical trial shared about his experience.
When 52-year-old Juan Rivera began feeling ill recently, “I called my wife and said I feel like I’m getting the flu, I’m just gonna come home and not have dinner,” he said.
He started experiencing a range of symptoms. It wasn’t long before Rivera felt like a stranger in his own house.
“The temperature I guess in my body was so high, I didn’t even recognize the hallways or where I was at,” Rivera said.
He tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to UCHealth University of Colorado hospital where he was asked if he’d like to participate in a clinical trial. After some hesitation, he said yes.
“I signed the papers and said let’s get going,” Rivera said.
The drug was remdesivir, an antiviral medication that was originally developed to fight Ebola. Administered intravenously, it in effect tricks the virus into stopping its replication.
“It was kind of like a candy bag that was on the IV, and it was over before you knew it,” Rivera said, referring to his daily treatments.
The preliminary results of several trials of the antiviral have been promising. One, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in which Denver Health Medical Center took part, found the average recovery time for COVID-19 patients given remdesivir was cut from 15 days to 11. The mortality rate was reduced as well.
“If you think about people not feeling well or not being able to go to work, it’s actually four days in the life of a person can be very significant,” said Dr. Maria Frank, medical director of Denver Health’s Biocontainment Unit.
Another trial sponsored by remdesivir’s manufacturer found it delivered results to patients sooner than first thought.
“Well I think the conclusions are encouraging,” said Dr. Thomas Campbell with the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He said the drug is unique because it targets the coronavirus directly, rather than the inflammatory response it often causes. He said effective treatments could improve patient outcomes and prevent the depletion of hospital resources.
“Having drugs that can do that is extremely important,” Campbell said.
Remdesivir has been given emergency approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but doctors like Campbell caution this is a merely a first step.
“And there will be other steps along the way and it also doesn’t necessarily mean that this will turn out to be the best treatment,” he said.
“It’s important to have something in our toolbox to actually help the patients get better,” Frank said.
Rivera isn’t sure remdesivir helped him but he appears to have conquered the disease.
“After two, three, four days, I could get up and I was like ok, I’m good, I’m strong,” he said.
He said he stepped forward mostly to help others, like those younger than him for whom this pandemic may not be the last.
“You know you might say it was more for humanity than for myself,” Rivera said.