• More than two-thirds of hospitalized COVID-19 patients improved in condition after receiving remdesivir, an experimental antiviral treatment from Gilead Sciences. 
  • These findings come from data published Friday on 53 patients, the largest dataset yet for remdesivir.
  • Experts, including the lead author of this study, cautioned against reaching conclusions on the drug’s efficacy. This is because the trial had no control arm to compare the results with. 
  • High-quality data is coming soon from two studies in China that tested remdesivir against a placebo. Those results are anticipated this month. 
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Slightly more than two-thirds of hospitalized COVID-19 patients improved in their condition after being treated with an experimental antiviral drug, new data published Friday shows. 

The patients were enrolled in a compassionate use program testing remdesivir, an experimental treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

Read more: Here are the 15 leading coronavirus treatments already being tested in COVID-19 patients, and the major trials now underway to see if they work

While this is the largest dataset yet available on remdesivir, encompassing 53 patients, it still is limited and experts cautioned against drawing conclusions that the drug works. Researchers published the data in The New England Journal of Medicine, a top medical journal. 

“Currently there is no proven treatment for COVID-19. We cannot draw definitive conclusions from these data, but the observations from this group of hospitalized patients who received remdesivir are hopeful,” Dr. Jonathan Grein, the study’s lead author and director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said in an April 10 statement

The primary limitation is the lack of a control arm in this study. That would provide researchers with something to compare these patients with to see if remdesivir brought any statistically meaningful benefits to patients.

Gilead Chief Medical Officer Merdad Parsey called the data “encouraging” but “limited.”

Randomized clinical trials are underway for remdesivir that will provide a better basis for conclusions. Two such studies that are being done in China are expected to produce results in mid-April.

Gilead, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization are all also testing remdesivir in their own trials. 

Read more: The US is sprinting to develop a coronavirus vaccine or treatment. Here’s how 19 top drugmakers are racing to tackle the pandemic.

Some data that appears most promising may wind up being less spectacular with additional follow-up. For instance, the research found that only 18% of patients on mechanical ventilation died after taking remdesivir.

But many patients in the study are still in the hospital, meaning that death rate could still increase over time. Among this group of 34 patients, nine remain on invasive ventilation. Just over half of those 34 are still in the hospital. 

But the report still brings glimmers of hope, given that two-thirds of patients have seen some level of clinical improvement since taking remdesivir. Also encouraging: more than half of the patients that were receiving invasive ventilation were extubated.

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