Dr. Craig Spencer, who survived Ebola, on coronavirus treatments


Dr. Craig Spencer, the New York City doctor who survived Ebola, on Thursday stressed the importance of relying on scientific studies to determine the effectiveness of potential Covid-19 treatments.

“We’re looking for anything, because otherwise we don’t have much other than high-quality critical care and good medicine,” Spencer said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” 

“What we need is really good, well-done scientific studies before we start really putting all of our eggs in this treatment basket,” added Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. 

Spencer’s comments followed the World Health Organization’s accidental publication of a draft document that discussed an antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences. 

The draft document, first reported on by The Financial Times, purported to show disappointing results from a clinical trial in China of the drug remdesivir. Gilead said the accidentally published document drew “inappropriate characterizations.” The company also said the study was ended early due to low enrollment and was therefore “inconclusive.” 

Thursday’s developments came after optimism last week as leaked details about another clinical trial involving remdesivir reportedly showed what seemed to be promising results. 

In addition to remdesivir, Spencer noted attempts to use as treatments hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria drug, and convalescent plasma, a centuries-old method that was used during the flu pandemic of 1918. 

Spencer, who contracted Ebola in 2014 after working in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders, said doctors are “grasping at straws,” hoping the currently unproven treatments do make a difference for patients with Covid-19.

“In the meantime, we’re going to keep using things we think may help but recognizing that they may not make a huge dent in things like mortality, ICU stays and the likelihood people will come off a ventilator,” he said. 

Spencer said he believes it’s possible the various high-quality clinical trials for therapeutics produce “good data” in the coming months. But he emphasized that there is much uncertainty around treatments.

“Do we know if any of these are going to significantly reduce mortality or infection? No. Will there probably be some things that are likely to shorten the length of disease or decrease the likelihood that people get on a ventilator? Probably,” he said. 

However, Spencer also said it is possible studies do not determine that any drugs are highly effective treatments. “And we’ll have to continue to rely on good old public health to stop the spread of this disease and prevent this from becoming a much bigger outbreak,” he said. 


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