On 26 May, the UK government said the National Health Service would provide access to remdesivir to adult and adolescent COVID-19 patients meeting certain clinical criteria, to speed up their recovery. Treatment was authorised through the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)’s Early Access to Medicines Scheme and will be prioritised for patients who are likely to benefit the most.
The antiviral drug, originally developed as an Ebola treatment, is currently undergoing clinical trials for COVID-19 around the world, and preliminary data show it can shorten the time to recovery by about four days, from 15 to 11 days.
This step is part of a collaboration between the UK and manufacturer Gilead Sciences. Similar arrangements have already been made with other countries, including the U.S. and Japan. In mid-May, Gilead licensed remdesivir to five generic drug makers with operations in India and Pakistan, which is reported to help to make the medicine available to 127 countries. The manufacturers will not pay royalties until either a second drug is approved, or the pandemic is declared ended.
In the laboratory, remdesivir has been found to inhibit the growth of several notable viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS), SARS-CoV-1, and SARS-CoV-2. In early April, the European Medicines Agency approved remdesivir for compassionate use in COVID-19 patients.
Meanwhile, WHO’s clinical trial of another much-hyped potential COVID-19 treatment, hydroxycholoroquine and chloroquine, has been paused. This was announced by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the media briefing on COVID-19 on 25 May.
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