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Coronavirus: Remdesivir is no miracle cure

While remdesivir reduces the mortality rate and the duration of the illness COVID-19, it’s no magic remedy. But the USA has just given it special approval to treat patients in hospitals.

Soon after the very first cases of coronavirus infections in China, attentions turned to remdesivir as a potential drug to treat the illness. Remdesivir was originally developed to treat Ebola infections, but it also showed effectiveness against SARS and MERS coronaviruses in laboratory tests. The new SARS-CoV-2 is considered a variant of the 2002 SARS pathogen.

The drug was developed by the US pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences as GS-5734. Not a single country had approved it.

But now, following positive results in a first clinical trial, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given remdesivir special approval. It can be administered in American hospitals to treat selected patients suffering with the lung disease COVID-19. That’s separate from any further clinical trials. Gilead Sciences says it will donate 1.5 million doses of remdesivir.

The antiviral effect of remdesivir derives from its function as a so-called nucleotide analogue. The active substance inhibits the RNA polymerase (RdRp) of viruses such as Ebola and MERS because its structure is similar to RNA building blocks. During virus replication, these are erroneously incorporated into the genetic strands of the new virus copies. Truly functional new viruses cannot be created in this way.

Although remdesivir did not prove to be really effective in fighting Ebola, cell culture experiments and initial experiments on macaques showed that it had a promising effect against the coronaviruses SARS and MERS-CoV, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2.

Recent clinical trials with remdesivir carried out in the USA and China were intended to show whether the drug also helps against COVID-19.


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