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What is Remdesivir?

You may have heard about the drug Remdesivir. In the last few months, Remdesivir has been approved for emergency treatment of COVID-19 in several countries, including the US and Canada. What do we know about this drug?

Remdesivir, brand name Veklury, is an antiviral medication whose research first began back in 2009. It was originally developed under research programs for hepatitis C by Gilead Sciences Inc.

During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, Gilead scientists began to investigate the anti-viral properties of Remdesivir. Ultimately, two other drugs proved more effective, however Gilead continued to investigate other potential uses.

Also in 2014, Gilead began to study Remdesivir against different coronaviruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).  Early laboratory tests indicated that Remdesivir showed anti-viral activity against SARS, but there were no active SARS cases at the time to proceed with clinical trials. 

When COVID-19 outbreak started in 2020, Gilead began to investigate remdesivir as a potential treatment. In a report by the New England Journal of Medicine in May 2020, Remdesivir was shown to shorten COVID-19 recovery time. It is believed that remdesivir works by inhibiting the virus from replicating itself

Remdesivir does not cure COVID-19.  It has simply been shown in a clinical study to reduce recovery time by 31 percent. According to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the improvement “doesn’t seem like a knockout 100 percent,” Dr. Fauci conceded, but “it is a very important proof of concept, because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”

On May 1, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization, allowing for the use of remdesivir for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. 

The United States currently has had 4.36M cases with nearly 150,000 deaths.

On July 28, 2020, Health Canada completed an expedited six-week review of the drug, and approved it for emergency treatment of patients with severe cases of COVID-19 in Canada.  The approval for emergency use does not guarantee the drug’s safety. Health Canada states it “will continue to closely monitor the safety of remdesivir and will take action should any safety concerns arise”.

Canada currently has nearly 115,000 cases with 8,912 deaths.

Remdesivir has been approved for emergency treatment of COVID-19 in the US, Canada and Japan, but not for general use.  It is delivered intravenously, meaning the drug would be administered in a supervised hospital setting.  

Supply may become an issue. "The Public Health Agency of Canada is continuing to lead work with Gilead Sciences Canada, Inc. to secure access to Remdesivir for Canadians," Health Canada released in a statement. Gilead themselves state, “In anticipation of potential future needs, we have accelerated manufacturing timelines to increase our available supply as rapidly as possible.”.

While Remdesivir development is a positive step, we remain a long way from approved treatment for general use, or a vaccine, which is likely still a year away. With that said, it is important to continue to practice safety measures like social distancing and wearing masks whenever possible. 

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