WHO's Solidarity trial shows repurposed drugs for Covid-19 are ineffective

  • WHO's Solidarity trial shows repurposed drugs for Covid-19 are ineffective

WHO's Solidarity trial shows repurposed drugs for Covid-19 are ineffective

A World Health Organisation (WHO) trial that concluded Gilead Sciences Inc's remdesivir did not significantly help Covid-19 patients is reliable, a scientist who evaluated the data said today, as the USA company criticised its methodology.

"This puts the issue to rest - there is certainly no mortality benefit", said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Alberta in Canada. The NIH now recommends against the use of interferons (alpha or beta) for severe or critical patients with COVID-19, except in the context of a clinical trial.

"It's just a much higher-powered study", she said.

Remdesivir, which was originally developed as a treatment for Ebola and hepatitis C, interferes with the reproduction of viruses by jamming itself into new viral genes.

The WHO's results appear to contradict a previous study from earlier this month, conducted by Gilead, which concluded that treatment with remdesivir cut Covid recovery time by five days compared to patients given a placebo.

Repurposing approved compounds for COVID-19 can expedite regulatory review, but changing formulation, dosing, and administration route may add risks. The National Institutes of Health also includes seven doctors paid by the drug's producer on its coronavirus panel.

Remdesivir has been the frontrunner in re-purposed drugs with various studies showing a positive recovery rate in patients.

The WHO's Solidarity Trial also involved the HIV treatment lopinavir/ritonavir, the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and multiple sclerosis drug Interferon.

Gilead questioned the findings, saying that Solidarity "prioritized broad access, resulting in significant heterogeneity in trial adoption, implementation, controls and patient populations and consequently, it is unclear if any conclusive findings can be drawn from the study results".

The arrangements, however, are not yet reciprocal, with New Zealand requiring arrivals to be quarantined for two weeks under supervision at the cost of NZ$3,100 ($2,045) for the first person and more for additional family members.

The move was criticized by some experts, who said the FDA had made the shift without sufficient evidence.

For its Solidarity clinical trial, the World Health Organization tested the effects four potential treatments - remdesivir, an Ebola drug, was one, but they also looked at malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, auto-immune drug interferon, and the HIV drug combination of lopinavir and ritonavir. It evaluated four potential drugs, including remdesivir. About 4,100 received no drug treatment.

The study looked at how each of these treatments affected mortality, ventilator use, and length of hospital stay in patients that were hospitalized with COVID-19. The trial stopped using hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir in June.

The findings, one senior critical care medicine specialist said, imply that affordable steroids such as dexamethasone and methylprednisolone, also approved for Covid-19 are the "only things proven to reduce mortality".

Economic revitalisation minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who heads Japan's COVID-19 fight, told reporters late on Thursday that if the experiment was a success all professional stadiums would be allowed to boost capacity.

Severe COVID-19 is thought to be driven largely by an overly exuberant immune response that starts several days after the virus infects the body.