How scientists are using remdesivir to find the perfect COVID drug cocktail

New phase of federal study started this month
Research on remdesivir enters new phase
Posted at 7:20 PM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 22:53:22-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — It’s one of the few drugs shown to help fight the novel coronavirus, and a large federal study on remdesivir just entered a new phase.

Previous research sponsored by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease showed remdesivir shortened recovery time in hospitalized COVID-19 patients on average from 15 days to 11 days.

Now scientists and doctors are racing to find the perfect cocktail against COVD-19 by blending remdesivir with other drugs.

California-based Gilead Sciences originally developed the drug to fight Ebola, but remdesivir was never approved. Gilead Sciences has offices in Oceanside.

The drug works by interrupting the virus’ ability to replicate.

“Remdesivir acts by shutting down virus production,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at University of California San Francisco. “It just forces the virus to stop making virus children.”

Dr. Chin-Hong is studying remdesivir as part of the NIAID research.

The problem is that stopping the virus from replicating isn’t enough for some severely ill patients. They suffer from a second problem: massive inflammation from the immune system’s war with the virus.

That’s why scientists are trying a cocktail approach.

“You have the virus to take care of, but you also have the body's response to the virus, which is inflammation, that you also have to take care of,” said Dr. Chin-Hong.

Researchers started testing the first drug cocktail in May, using an arthritis drug called baricitinib that tames inflammation.

But as the data on that part of the study gets crunched, researchers began testing the second cocktail this month, a combination of remdesivir and interferon beta.

“Interferon beta is something we produce naturally to fight viruses,” said Dr. Chin-Hong. He said studies have shown people who don’t produce enough interferon beta struggle to fight off the virus.

Researchers selected interferon beta after two small studies showed promising results against the coronavirus.

Interferon beta can both reduce inflammation and kill viruses, so doctors are hoping it will be a potent one-two punch with remdesivir.

Dr. Chin-Hong said he and other researchers started administering the new cocktail this month.

Some patients will receive the cocktail, some will receive a placebo, and some will get remdesivir only. This kind of clinical trial is called an adaptive trial, which the FDA started encouraging in 2004. After each phase, the winning drug or cocktail will be tested against a new challenger.

Dr. Chin-Hong said the eventual cocktail may include three or more drugs, similar to HIV medication.