Gilead gains on report claiming COVID-19 drug effectiveness


Gilead Sciences shares surged by more than 8% Friday after details leaked of a closely watched clinical trial of the company's antiviral drug Remdesivir, showing what appears to be promising results in treating Covid-19.

Stocks rose in Asia along with USA equity futures amid tentative steps to restart the American economy and progress on the fight against the coronavirus. It's not a slam dunk by any means.

Scientists say remdesivir, originally developed in 2014 to fight the Ebola epidemic, is "highly effective" in halting the replication mechanism of the novel coronavirus. "Timing is everything. I can't say for certain they would have been intubated otherwise, but it's encouraging", said infectious diseases pharmacist Katherine K. Perez, Pharm.D. Two patients died but most of the rest have already been discharged after their symptoms eased significantly.

The hospital's trials do not include a placebo group, and STAT notes that it is "impossible to determine the full study results with any certainty". The report, by healthcare publication Stat News, spurred hopes among investors that lockdowns around the world could be eased. Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine published data from 53 patients with severe disease, but that data set also lacked a control group.

"But certainly when we start [the] drug, we see fever curves falling", she said. "We have seen people come off ventilators a day after starting therapy". So, in that realm, overall our patients have done very well.

Development of 70 coronavirus vaccines underway
Hot on their heels, US-based biotech startups Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Moderna have both started human testing as well.

All told, 237 out of a target study population of 300 were enrolled before it was placed on hold, they said, and with no data being revealed "any benefits were likely inconclusive", they suggested. "We have very few that went out to 10 days, maybe three".

Efforts are on worldwide to develop a drug and anti-COVID-19 vaccine to prevent the pandemic from exacerbating, even as confirmed cases of the infection crossed the 2-million mark on Wednesday. "We've only had two patients perish".

So far the only data on the drug in this setting comes from an open-label study of the drug in a varied group of compassionate-use patients, which pointed to a benefit but was hard to interpret.

Gilead expects early data from its trial of the drug in severe patients at the end of April, and data from a trial testing it in patients with moderate symptoms by May.