A drug developed to treat the Ebola virus is now being heralded by the White House as a possible "game changer" in the search for a COVID-19 treatment. But UCLA researchers involved in the clinical trials for Remdesivir are not making any conclusions yet.
"It's definitely not a silver bullet or magic bullet," Dr. Otto Yang of UCLA Medical Center told the NBCLA I-Team. Yang is the lead researcher on clinical trials of Remdesivir at UCLA, one of several hospitals taking part in the trials.
The latest buzz about Remdesivir began Wednesday morning, when the drug's maker--Gilead--issued a statement saying there was "positive data" that the anti-viral was effective in battling COVID-19. That statement sent Gilead's stock up.
Hours later, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Remdesivir "has a clear cut, positive, significant effect in diminishing time to recover" from COVID-19.
When asked by NBCLA if politicians are prematurely jumping to conclusions about the drug that is still in clinical trials, UCLA's Dr. Yang said, “I think politicians should just get out of the way and leave us alone and let us do our work."
Yang has been leading UCLA’s double blind drug trial for the past six weeks, where Remdesivir has been administered to 15 coronavirus patients. He still does not know which of the patients were given the drug or a placebo, and will receive the results in several weeks.
“When politicians make judgments or recommendations about things they think may work, it really makes it very difficult for us to do the type of work we want to do,” he said, calling Remdesivir a step in the right direction, but “not a magic bullet.”
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Yang told the I-Team that it is very unusual to see the government making such optimistic statements about a drug so early in its trials. He attributed the White House’s statements to the public's desire to find a drug to combat the coronavirus.
“I think this is a very unusual circumstance. I don't think they’re going to get criticized for it because everyone is clamoring to know,” he said.
Not all scientists agree with the White House’s positive spin. A study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Emergency Project of COVID-19, published on the same day as the White House’s announcement, concluded that "Remdesivir was not associated with statistically significant clinical benefits.”
Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that "more research and controlled trials need to be conducted to determine its “safety and efficacy.”
Despite the mixed messages, the Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it is granting emergency approval for the drug to be given to a much wider range of patients, as there is no current alternative treatment.