Doctors have gotten better at treating coronavirus patients

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-treatment-better-drugs-hospitals-6f92cf31-4fa1-4181-ba21-a5a8c778ec9e.html

Doctors and hospitals have gotten better at treating coronavirus ...

Doctors and hospitals have learned a lot about how best to treat people infected with the coronavirus in the months since the pandemic began.

Why it matters: Better treatment means fewer deaths and less pain for people who are infected, and research into pharmaceutical treatments is advancing at the same time as hospital care.

The big picture: Some of the simplest changes have been the most effective. For example, doctors have learned that flipping patients onto their stomachs instead of their backs can help increase airflow to the lungs.

  • Providers also now prefer high-flow oxygen over ventilators, despite the early focus on ventilator supply.
  • “If you can avoid ventilation, it is preferred if someone is able to breathe on their own and you just help them out by giving them more oxygenated air to breathe,” said Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Researchers have also discovered new utility in old drugs.

  • Dexamethasone, a cheap steroid used to treat inflammation, has been found to reduce deaths by one-third among patients on ventilators and one-fifth among those on oxygen.
  • Preliminary data has shown that remdesivir, an antiviral, probably doesn’t save seriously ill patients’ lives, but can help others get out of the hospital a few days earlier. “Anyone who has evidence of lung injury or needing oxygen, we give it,” said Armond Esmaili, a hospitalist at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center.
  • Doctors have also learned to put all COVID patients on drugs to prevent blood clots, Esmaili said.

What they’re saying: There’s still a lot doctors and scientists don’t know about the virus, but they say they’ve come along way since February and March, when they were essentially flying blind.

  • “It was very scary, just to give you the subjective feeling, of caring for patients and talking with patients and their families and a lot of the time saying, ‘We don’t know a lot about this disease. We don’t know how you’re going to do,’” Esmaili said.

Between the lines: Hospitals are also able to provide better care when they’re not overwhelmed with patients.

  • New York’s hospitals were so overwhelmed in the spring that they brought in employees to work well outside of their specialties. In some hospitals’ emergency rooms, patient-to-nurse ratios rose to more than 20 to 1the NYT reports — five times the recommended ratio.
  • “Really attentive-level care is important,” Esmaili said.“It’s not that hard to imagine that when you have the resources and you’re not overburdened with a massive amount of patients that patients are going to get better care.”

What we’re watching: These advances in treatment protocols will only go so far, especially if hospitals in states like Florida, Arizona and Texas become too full to put them into practice.

  • In states with rising case counts, “I think you’re going to see mortality rates increase there because of that phenomenon of hospitals being unable to deliver optimal care, because they don’t have the staffing,” said James Lawler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
  • “You don’t want your ICU nurse to have to take care of five or six patients at the same time,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus drugmakers’ latest tactics: Science by press release

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/05/drugmakers-media-coronavirus-303895

Coronavirus drugmakers' latest tactics: Science by press release ...

Pharmaceutical companies are using the media to tout treatments that are still under review.

Vaccine maker Moderna attracted glowing headlines and bullish investors when it revealed that eight participants in a preliminary clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine had developed antibodies to the virus. The company’s share price jumped nearly 20 percent that day as it released a massive stock offering.

But the full results of the 45-person safety study haven’t been published, even though Moderna began a second, larger trial in late May aimed at determining whether the vaccine works. Several vaccine researchers say the scant public information on the earlier safety study is hard to evaluate because it addresses less than 20 percent of participants.

Call it science by press release — a tactic that pharmaceutical companies are increasingly relying upon to set their experimental coronavirus drugs and vaccines apart in a crowded field, shape public opinion and court regulators. Public health experts say the approach could increase political pressure on federal health officials to green-light drugs and vaccines before it is clear they are safe or effective, with potentially dangerous consequences.

“There’s a long history of pharmaceutical manufacturers putting out self-serving press releases related to clinical trial data that they’re developing that present an overly rosy picture of the data, usually with a boilerplate disclaimer at the end, which is fairly useless,” said Aaron Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies drug regulation and pricing.

There are already signs of hype and political pressure influencing the U.S.’ coronavirus response. The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in March without any proof that it was safe or effective for coronavirus patients — but with the backing of President Donald Trump, who had begun touting the treatment during daily White House briefings.

Subsequent studies have found that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t help those with Covid-19 and can cause potentially fatal side effects. And a top government scientist, Rick Bright, filed a whistleblower complaint in May alleging that he was ousted from his job leading the Biomedical Advanced Research Authority after he resisted political pressure to greenlight widespread use of the drug.

“The FDA has remained an unwavering, science-based voice helping to guide the all-of-government response,” agency Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement. “I have never felt any pressure to make decisions, other than the urgency of the situation around COVID-19.”

But observers aren’t so sure. “From the outside looking in, there seems to be more political pressure than ever,” said Marc Scheineson, a former associate commissioner at the FDA and head of the FDA group at Alston & Bird. “The example in the White House is trickling down and there is a lot of pressure on the FDA … to color information on the optimistic side for political purposes and that is a hugely disturbing trend.”

A spokesperson for Moderna, which has received nearly a half billion dollars from the U.S. government and praise from Trump, said the company previewed its vaccine trial results by press release because it was concerned that the data might leak. The National Institutes of Health’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, had hinted at the results in an interview with National Geographic, and data from a trial of the experimental drug remdesivir had leaked in April.

“You had this data moving widely around NIH and the remdesivir leak was also in our minds,” the Moderna spokesperson said.

But Peter Bach, director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes, said Moderna’s effort to preview its findings in the press “could be construed as an effort to make sure they are part of the conversation — and it worked on that front.”

Other groups have also previewed their hotly anticipated vaccine studies in the press. In late April, The New York Times revealed that six monkeys given a vaccine developed by researchers at the U.K.’s University of Oxford had stayed healthy for 28 days despite sustained exposure to the coronavirus. The article quoted Vincent Munster, a researcher at the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory, which conducted the monkey study at the British scientists’ behest.

The Oxford researchers, who signed a deal with AstraZeneca two days later to develop the experimental vaccine, did not publish a formal scientific analysis of the monkey data until mid-May. The study revealed that the noses of vaccinated monkeys and unvaccinated monkeys contained similar levels of coronavirus particles, suggesting that the vaccinated animals could still spread the disease — and the vaccine might not be as effective as the earlier data had hinted.

AstraZeneca has since inked a $1.2 billion deal with the U.S. government to provide 300 million vaccine doses, and a £65.5 million ($80 million) agreement with the U.K. government to supply 30 million doses.

Liz Derow, a spokesperson for Oxford’s Jenner Institute, where the vaccine researchers are based, said they did not give the monkey data to The New York Times. The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which operates the Rocky Mountain Laboratory, said it did not provide the data to the newspaper — but one of its researchers, Vincent Munster, spoke to a Times reporter about the monkey findings at the request of the Jenner Institute.

“I was really disturbed by not just Moderna, but the Oxford group as well, presenting a press release without data, without a scientific review, without knowing what the press release was based on,” said Barry Bloom, an immunologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “And very positively enough to raise the stock price so two days later officials within the company sold their stock and made a whole lot of money, whether or not the vaccine works.”

Four of the pharmaceutical firm’s top executives together saw gains of $29 million from prescheduled sales of shares in the company in the two days following the vaccine announcement. The company has not yet responded to a request for comment on the stock sales.

Neither the Oxford nor Moderna vaccines are available to the public. But some drugs whose safety and efficacy are now being studied have already been repurposed or authorized for emergency use during the pandemic. The rush to release snippets of information on drug trials to the press ahead of full results has left some doctors wondering how to best treat their patients.

After leaked data from a trial of Gilead’s experimental antiviral remdesivir suggested the drug might be the first shown to help coronavirus patients, the company put out a press release in late April teasing results from a larger, government-run study. Hours later, Fauci revealed some findings of the study during an Oval Office press spray.

But the full analysis of the NIAID trial results was not published until three weeks later. Until that point, frontline physicians had no way to know that patients on ventilators did not benefit from remdesivir treatment — meaning that doctors may have inadvertently wasted some of the United States’ limited stock of the drug.

This lack of understanding on how to use remdesivir was evident in a recent survey more than 250 hospitals by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which found that just 15 percent planned to use their remdesivir doses as described in the FDA’s emergency authorization for the drug.

Andre Kalil, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who led the NIAID trial, told POLITICO that physicians could have patterned their use of remdesivir on the dosages given during the trial.

Others say doctors using experimental treatments should have as much information as possible.

“If we want doctors to make rational medical decisions based on data, then before an authorized product reaches patients, the data should be available to review in some way, not just a press release,” said Walid Gellad, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing.

Kesselheim, too, said that clinical trial data should be made public alongside any emergency authorizations to give physicians “the maximum amount of help they need in figuring out how to prescribe the drug.”

Gilead did not respond to a request for comment. But NIAID said that the urgency of the coronavirus prompted Fauci to share initial results before a full analysis was ready for publication.

Ivan Oransky, a professor of medical journalism at New York University and co-founder of the blog Retraction Watch, which monitors errors and misconduct in scientific research, told POLITICO he fears that the temptation to conduct science by press release will get “worse before it gets better.”

The world is growing more desperate for drugs and vaccines that could bring the coronavirus to heel. And many members of the public and politicians are treating every scrap of scientific information about the pandemic equally, he said — whether data comes from a peer-reviewed study or a company press release.

“There have been mechanisms to review science critically that, given the speed of Covid, have gone out the window,” said Bloom.

And interpreting results of clinical trial data can be difficult under the best of circumstances — especially when that data concerns a virus that was unknown to science until December of last year. When to end a trial and which conclusions to highlight are in many cases a matter of discretion, said Scheineson.

“It’s an art, not a science, in that respect,” he said. “I, for one, will not be the first in line to the new Moderna vaccine.”

 

 

 

 

Major study finds common steroid reduces deaths among patients with severe Covid-19

Major study finds common steroid reduces deaths among patients with severe Covid-19

What is Dexamethasone? | What Is News,The Indian Express

A cheap, readily available steroid drug reduced deaths by a third in patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in a large study, the first time a therapy has been shown to possibly improve the odds of survival with the condition in the sickest patients.

Full data from the study have not been published or subjected to scientific scrutiny. But outside experts on Tuesday immediately embraced the top-line results. The drug, dexamethasone, is widely available and is used to treat conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and some cancers.

In a statement, Patrick Vallance, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser, called the result “tremendous news” and “a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease.” Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, called it “a very positive finding” in an interview on CNBC. “I think it needs to be validated, but it certainly suggests that this could be beneficial in this setting.”

Atul Gawande, the surgeon, writer and public health researcher, urged caution, tweeting, “after all the retractions and walk backs, it is unacceptable to tout study results by press release without releasing the paper.”

The study randomly assigned 2,104 patients to receive six milligrams of dexamethasone once a day, by mouth or intravenous injection. These were compared to 4,321 patients assigned to receive usual care alone.

In patients who needed to be on a ventilator, dexamethasone reduced the death rate by 35%, meaning that doctors would prevent one death by treating eight ventilated patients. In those who needed oxygen but were not ventilated, the death rate was reduced 20%, meaning doctors would need to treat 25 patients to save one life. Both results were statistically significant.

There was no benefit in patients who didn’t require any oxygen. The researchers running the study, called RECOVERY, decided to stop enrolling patients on dexamethasone on June 8 because they believed they had enough data to get a clear result.

“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19,” Peter Horby, one of the lead investigators of the study and a professor in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. He added that the drug should now become the standard treatment for patients with Covid-19 who need oxygen. “Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.’”

A different arm of the same study showed on June 5 that hydroxychloroquine, widely touted as a potential Covid treatment, had no benefit in hospitalized patients. Yesterday, based in part on those results, the Food and Drug Administration revoked an Emergency Use Authorization for using hydroxychloroquine in those patients.

From the start of the pandemic in March, researchers have focused on two different stages of Covid-19, which will likely require very different interventions. Some drugs are designed to directly combat the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the disease. The first medicine shown to have a benefit, remdesivir from the biotech firm Gilead Sciences, falls into this category, even though, because it must be given intravenously, it has been tested in hospitalized patients. Remdesivir shortens the course of infection, but has not been shown to save lives.

After patients have become profoundly sick, the problem starts to become not only the virus but their own immune system, which attacks the lungs, a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. For these patients, doctors have believed, they would need to dampen patients’ immune response even as they fought the virus.

Initially, excitement in this area fell on new and expensive drugs, such as Actemra, a rheumatoid arthritis drug from Roche that is used to treat a similar condition caused by some cancer immunotherapies. But a study in patients who needed oxygen showed no benefit from a similar drug, although another arm in sicker patients is continuing. The National Institutes of Health is conducting a study of an Eli Lilly pill targeting rheumatoid arthritis, an extension of the study that showed remdesivir has a benefit.

Dexamethasone, which reached the market 59 years ago, seemed an unlikely candidate to help these patients; it was seen as too crude a way of tamping down the immune system. In guidelines for physicians treating the disease, the NIH doesn’t even mention the therapy.

Studies that are testing other medicines may now need to incorporate the use of the drug, which could complicate analyzing the results. A spokesperson for Regeneron, which is testing Covid-19 drugs focused on both attacking the virus and dampening the immune system, said the company’s studies are written so that when a new medicine becomes the standard of care, it becomes available to patients in the trial.

Some studies have shown a benefit for using dexamethasone in acute respiratory distress syndrome not related to Covid-19, although the benefit was smaller than in RECOVERY. 

The result, should it hold up to further scrutiny, shows the benefit of the strategy of Horby and Martin Landray, the Oxford researchers who designed the study, leveraging the U.K. health system to start a study of multiple inexpensive potential Covid-19 therapies — including hydroxychloroquine, dexamethasone, and also some older HIV medicines. Several months into the Covid-19 pandemic, two of the most important results come from this single study.

Neither of those results, however, have been scrutinized or published.

 

 

 

Why Gilead’s coronavirus drug is not a “silver bullet”

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Why Gilead's coronavirus drug is not a "silver bullet" - Axios

If you feel like you’re suffering whiplash from the new, conflicting study data on Gilead Sciences’ experimental coronavirus drug, remdesivir, you’re not alone.

The big picture: Remdesivir could provide some help and lay the groundwork for more research, but this drug on its own does not appear to be any kind of “cure” for the novel coronavirus, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

What’s happening: Remdesivir helped coronavirus patients get out of the hospital modestly quicker, based on early reads of an important and rigorously designed trial run by the National Institutes of Health,

  • That could be encouraging for those who get sick.

Yes, but: Analysts and experts were cautious about drawing too many conclusions without the full data from NIH — especially considering the primary outcome was changed mid-trial, and a separate randomized trial concluded remdesivir does little, if anything, to combat the virus.

  • “Remdesivir is a real drug for COVID … but again, not a silver bullet,” Umer Raffat, a pharmaceutical analyst at Evercore ISI, wrote to investors on Wednesday.
  • And because the drug has limited efficacy and likely works best before the infection gets too serious, “its availability is not going to move the needle on social distancing relaxation,” tweeted Peter Bach, a physician and drug researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

The bottom line: This near-constant back-and-forth over remdesivir reinforces how strong the science and data need to be for any treatment, or for the world’s best hope: a vaccine.

 

 

 

Gilead says critical study of Covid-19 drug shows patients are responding to treatment

Gilead says critical study of Covid-19 drug shows patients are responding to treatment

Gilead: Critical study of Covid-19 drug shows patients respond to ...

A government-run study of Gilead’s remdesivir, perhaps the most closely watched experimental drug to treat the novel coronavirus, showed that the medicine is effective against Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Gilead made the announcement in a statement Wednesday, stating: “We understand that the trial has met its primary endpoint.” The company said that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is conducting the study, will provide data at an upcoming briefing.

The finding — although difficult to fully characterize without any data for the study — would represent the first treatment shown to improve outcomes in patients infected with the virus that put the global economy in a standstill and killed at least 218,000 people worldwide.

Over the past few weeks, there have been conflicting reports about the potential benefit of remdesivir, a drug that was previously tried in Ebola. As previously reported by STAT, an early peek at Gilead’s study in severe Covid-19 patients, based on data from a trial at a Chicago hospital, suggested patients were doing better than expected on remdesivir. Days later, a summary of results from a study in China showed that patients on the drug did not improve more than those in a control group.

Full results from the China study were also released Wednesday.

But the NIAID study, which was not expected to be released so soon, was by far the most important and rigorously designed test of remdesivir in Covid-19. The study compared remdesivir to placebo in 800 patients, with neither patients nor physicians knowing who got the drug instead of a placebo, meaning that unconscious biases will not affect the conclusions.

The main goal of the study is the time until patients improve, with different measures of improvement depending on how sick they were to begin with. While the result means that the drug helps patients improve faster, it is not possible to say how dramatic those improvements are.

Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said he expected there was enough evidence for the agency to issue an “emergency use authorization” for remdesivir.

“Remdesivir isn’t a home run but looks active and can be part of a toolbox of drugs and diagnostics that substantially lower our risk heading into the fall,” he said.

The FDA previously issued an emergency authorization for the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, even though at least some studies suggesting the medicine was not effective. “If hydroxychloroquine met [the emergency] standard, then remdesivir would have seemed to cross that line a while ago, especially in the setting of treating critically ill patients,” Gottlieb said.

Remdesivir, which must be given intravenously, is likely to remain a treatment for patients who are hospitalized. But it is also likely that it will be most effective in patients who have been infected more recently, said Nahid Bhadelia, medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center.

“We know that with most antiviral medications the earlier you give it the better it is.” said Bhadelia, who had experience giving remdesivir as an experimental treatment for Ebola in Africa, where results are less encouraging. That means that better diagnostic testing will be essential to identifying patients who could benefit. “What will be important is that we find people on the outpatient side,” Bhadelia said. “Again, testing becomes important, we want to have them come to the hospital as soon as possible. “

Gilead also released results Wednesday from its own study of remdesivir in patients with severe Covid-19. This study showed similar rates of clinical improvement in patients treated with a five-day and 10-day course of remdesivir, the company said.

“Unlike traditional drug development, we are attempting to evaluate an investigational agent alongside an evolving global pandemic. Multiple concurrent studies are helping inform whether remdesivir is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 and how to best utilize the drug,” said Merdad Parsey, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Gilead Sciences, in a prepared statement.

Gilead said that its own study in severe patients showed that it may be possible to treat patients with a five-day treatment of remdesivir, not the 10-day course that was used in the NIAID trial.

The company’s study is enrolling approximately 6,000 participants from 152 different clinical trial sites all over the world. The data disclosed Thursday are from 397 patients, with a statistical comparison of patient improvement between the two remdesivir treatment arms — the five-day and 10-day treatment course. Improvement was measured using a seven-point numerical scale that encompasses death (at worst) and discharge from hospital (best outcome), with various degrees of supplemental oxygen and intubation in between.

The study design means that by itself it doesn’t reveal much about how well remdesivir is working, because there is no group of patients who were not treated with the drug. The conclusion is that the two durations of treatment are basically the same.

Peter Bach, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Medical Center, said he is eager to see the data from the NIAID study but renewed his criticism of Gilead’s severe study for lacking a control group of untreated patients. That would have allowed researchers to make important conclusions about how the drug works that are just not possible now, he said.

“They’ve squandered an unbelievable opportunity,” Bach said. “It’s not going to tell us what to do with 80-year-olds with multiple comorbidities compared to 30-year-olds who are otherwise healthy. We’re still going to be foundering around in the dark, or at least in a dim room, when we could have learned more.”

In the study, the median time to clinical improvement was 10 days in the five-day treatment group and 11 days in the 10-day treatment group. More than half of the patients in both groups were discharged from the hospital by day 14. At day 14, 64.5% of the patients in the five-day group and 53.8% of the patients in the 10-day group achieved clinical recovery.

Patients in the trial generally lived, though this may be because their illness was not that severe to begin with. For most of the study, patients already on ventilators were not enrolled.

Eight percent of the patients treated with five days of remdesivir died, compared to 11% of the patients treated for 10 days. Outside of Italy, where 77 patients were treated, the overall mortality rate across the entire study was 7%, Gilead said. Those mortality rates are lower than those seen in other studies, which have been in the teens and twenties.

Only 5% of patients in the five-day group and 10% in the 10-day group had side effects that led to a discontinuation. The most common bad effects — and it’s impossible to tell which were from the drug — were nausea and acute respiratory failure. High liver enzymes occurred in 7.3 percent of patients, with 3 percent of patients discontinuing the drug due to elevated liver tests.

A full evaluation of the results will have to wait until complete data are available.

In the China study, also published Wednesday in The Lancet, investigators found that remdesivir “did not significantly improve the time to clinical improvement, mortality, or time to clearance of virus in patients with serious COVID-19 compared with placebo.”

There was a 23% improvement in time to clinical improvement for remdesivir compared to placebo, but the difference was not statistically significant. At the median, remdesivir-treated patients improved in 20 days compared to 23 days for placebo patients. At one month, 14% of the remdesivir patients had died compared to 13% of the placebo-treated patients.

The China study enrolled patients with more severe Covid-19 than the study conducted by NIAID. The China study was also stopped early because of difficulties enrolling patients as the pandemic waned in China.

 

 

 

Murky data fragments about a coronavirus drug

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Fact Check: Politicians on both sides make misleading claims about ...

Depending on the study, remdesivir is either a clinical failure or a godsend for treating the novel coronavirus, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

The big picture: The grim reality of the coronavirus pandemic has the world itching to know which experimental treatments actually work, but we’re not necessarily getting any smarter from these incremental drips of incomplete information.

Driving the news: Remdesivir — an antiviral drug that some experts have seen as a promising coronavirus treatment — “was not associated with clinical or virological benefits” for coronavirus patients, according to a summary of a clinical trial in China, viewed by STAT and the Financial Times.

Between the lines: The truth is we still don’t really know how effective the drug is in fighting this virus.

  • The Chinese trial has a randomized control group, so it is by far the most reliable study. However, the trial has not gone through peer review, and Gilead said the results were “inconclusive” because the trial had to be terminated early.

The bottom line: Science is slow for a reason, and the deluge of poorly designed trials and early drafts of studies is sowing confusion instead of creating clarity.

What’s next: A more rigorous report from Gilead’s Chinese trial is expected at the end of this month, and data from other trials is expected in late May.

 

 

 

 

Not jumping to conclusions on coronavirus treatment

https://mailchi.mp/39947afa50d2/the-weekly-gist-april-17-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

A Closer Look At Remdesivir, An Experimental Coronavirus Drug ...

Early reports of hastened recoveries among patients taking the antiviral drug remdesivir sent manufacturer Gilead Sciences’ stock soaring over 8 percent this morning, and contributing to an overall uptick in the market. The gains came after a scoop by healthcare news site STAT, which obtained a copy of an internal webinar from University of Chicago Medicine, where an infectious disease specialist discussed positive results from their early experience with remdesivir. The system recruited 125 patients into Gilead’s Phase 3 clinical trials for the drug; 113 patients had severe disease. The presenting physician reported rapid reductions in fever and improvements in respiratory symptoms, noting that just two patients had died, and most of the participating patients had already been discharged—on average after just six days, suggesting a long course of drug treatment may not be necessary.

The STAT leak comes on the heels of a NEJM article late last week, which reported clinical improvement of over two-thirds in COVID-19 patients who received remdesivir. Critics were quick to point out  numerous flaws in the study, including lack of a control group, cherry-picking of patients, and the deep involvement of the manufacturer in study design, many of which also apply to the University of Chicago report.

In the thick of the pandemic, doctors and patients’ families are understandably motivated to get very sick patients access to any treatment that may help—but the resulting frenzy following the publication of early results may make it even harder to get good data to understand what works, and what doesn’t.

In the words of one expert, “Fast trials are generally not very interpretable, interpretable trials are generally not fast”. In the search for a “COVID-19 cure”, it’s highly unlikely that any single drug will provide a cure for the viral illness, and the only way we’ll know if a treatment is truly working is to wait for the results of randomized, controlled trials—despite how frustrating it is to muster the patience to do so.

 

 

 

 

Early peek at data on Gilead coronavirus drug suggests patients are responding to treatment

Early peek at data on Gilead coronavirus drug suggests patients are responding to treatment

Gilead data suggests coronavirus patients are responding to treatment

A Chicago hospital treating severe Covid-19 patients with Gilead Sciences’ antiviral medicine remdesivir in a closely watched clinical trial is seeing rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms, with nearly all patients discharged in less than a week, STAT has learned.

Remdesivir was one of the first medicines identified as having the potential to impact SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, in lab tests. The entire world has been waiting for results from Gilead’s clinical trials, and positive results would likely lead to fast approvals by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies. If safe and effective, it could become the first approved treatment against the disease.

The University of Chicago Medicine recruited 125 people with Covid-19 into Gilead’s two Phase 3 clinical trials. Of those people, 113 had severe disease. All the patients have been treated with daily infusions of remdesivir.

“The best news is that most of our patients have already been discharged, which is great. We’ve only had two patients perish,” said Kathleen Mullane, the University of Chicago infectious disease specialist overseeing the remdesivir studies for the hospital.

Her comments were made this week during a video discussion about the trial results with other University of Chicago faculty members. The discussion was recorded and STAT obtained a copy of the video.

The outcomes offer only a snapshot of remdesivir’s effectiveness. The same trials are being run concurrently at other institutions, and it’s impossible to determine the full study results with any certainty. Still, no other clinical data from the Gilead studies have been released to date, and excitement is high. Last month, President Trump touted the potential for remdesivir — as he has for many still-unproven treatments — and said it “seems to have a very good result.”

In a statement Thursday, Gilead said: “What we can say at this stage is that we look forward to data from ongoing studies becoming available.”

Gilead had said to expect results for its trial involving severe cases in April. Mullane said during her presentation that data for the first 400 patients in the study would be “locked” by Gilead Thursday, meaning that results could come any day.

Mullane, while encouraged by the University of Chicago data, made clear her own hesitancy about drawing too many conclusions.

“It’s always hard,” she said, because the severe trial doesn’t include a placebo group for comparison. “But certainly when we start [the] drug, we see fever curves falling,” she said. “Fever is now not a requirement for people to go on trial, we do see when patients do come in with high fevers, they do [reduce] quite quickly. We have seen people come off ventilators a day after starting therapy. So, in that realm, overall our patients have done very well.”

She added: “Most of our patients are severe and most of them are leaving at six days, so that tells us duration of therapy doesn’t have to be 10 days. We have very few that went out to 10 days, maybe three,” she said.

Reached by STAT, Mullane confirmed the authenticity of the footage but declined to comment further. In a statement, the University of Chicago Medicine said “drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scientifically unsound.” 

Asked about the data, Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, described them as “encouraging.”

“The severely hit patients are at such high-risk of fatality. So if it’s true that many of the 113 patients were in this category and were discharged, it’s another positive signal that the drug has efficacy,” he said, adding that it will be important to see more data from randomized controlled studies.

Gilead’s severe Covid-19 study includes 2,400 participants from 152 different clinical trial sites all over the world. Its moderate Covid-19 study includes 1,600 patients in 169 different centers, also all over the world.

The trial is investigating five- and 10-day treatment courses of remdesivir. The primary goal is a statistical comparison of patient improvement between the two treatment arms. Improvement is measured using a seven-point numerical scale that encompasses death (at worst) and discharge from hospital (best outcome), with various degrees of supplemental oxygen and intubation in between.

The lack of a control arm in the study could make interpreting the results more challenging. 

A lack of data has led to yo-yoing expectations for the drug. Two studies in China had enrollment suspended partway through because there were not enough patients available. A recent report of patients given the drug under a special program to make it available to those who are very ill generated both excitement and skepticism.

In scientific terms, all the data are anecdotal until the full trial reads out, meaning that they should not be used to draw final conclusions. But some of the anecdotes are dramatic.

Slawomir Michalak, a 57-year-old factory worker from a suburb west of Chicago, was among the participants in the Chicago study. One of his daughters started feeling ill in late March and was later diagnosed with mild Covid-19. Michalak, by contrast, came down with a high fever and reported shortness of breath and severe pain in his back.

“It felt like someone was punching me in the lungs,” he told STAT.

At his wife’s urging, Michalak went to the University of Chicago Medicine hospital on Friday, April 3. His fever had spiked to 104 and he was struggling to breath. At the hospital, he was given supplemental oxygen. He also agreed to participate in Gilead’s severe Covid-19 clinical trial.

His first infusion of remdesivir was on Saturday, April 4. “My fever dropped almost immediately and I started to feel better,” he said.

By his second dose on Sunday, Michalak said he was being weaned off oxygen. He received two more daily infusions of remdesivir and recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital on Tuesday, April 7.

“Remdesivir was a miracle,” he said. 

The world is waiting to find out if it is really so.