WHO to talk with US on making drug available

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing on COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at the WHO heardquaters in Geneva on March 11, 2020.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

The World Health Organization said Monday it will speak with the U.S. government and Gilead Sciences on how antiviral drug remdesivir could be made more widely available to treat Covid-19 as data emerges of its effectiveness.

WHO welcomes the recent data from a U.S. government-run clinical trial showing the drug appeared to be effective in reducing recovery times for Covid-19 patients, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said at a news conference at the agency’s Geneva headquarters.

“There’s signals of hope there for the potential use of the drug,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted emergency use authorization for Gilead’s drug to treat Covid-19 after the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released results from its clinical trial showing patients who took remdesivir usually recovered after 11 days, four days faster than those who didn’t take the drug.

The drug has not been formally approved to treat the virus, and U.S. health officials caution new data on the drug has yet to be peer-reviewed. Even though the drug was granted for emergency use, there are still several ongoing clinical trials, including a solidarity trial from WHO, testing the drug to see if it’s effective in fighting the coronavirus.

“We are grateful that the company Gilead and the Director-General had direct discussions at the highest level to ensure that we had access to the remdesivir drug in order to launch the solidarity trials around the world,” Ryan said. 

Remdesivir has shown some promise in treating SARS and MERS, which are also caused by coronaviruses. Some health authorities in the U.S., China and other parts of the world have been using remdesivir, which was tested as a possible treatment for the Ebola outbreak, in hopes that the drug can improve the outcomes for Covid-19 patients.

President Donald Trump has touted remdesivir as a potential treatment for the virus, which has infected more than 3.5 million people worldwide and killed at least 247,752, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Last week, he said he wanted the FDA to move “as quickly as they can” to approve the drug. 

Gilead expects to produce more than 140,000 rounds of its 10-day treatment regimen by the end of May and anticipates it can make 1 million rounds by the end of this year. Gilead said it will be able to produce “several million” rounds of its antiviral drug next year.

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