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WHO advises against remdesivir for hospitalized patients

November 20, 2020

A World Health Organization panel said the anti-viral drug remdesivir should not be used to treat COVID-19 patients, no matter how ill they are. The experts said the drug has "no important effect" on death rates.

A lab technician holds the anti-viral drug remdesivir at a facility in Cairo, Egypt
Image: Reuters/A. Abdallah Dalsh

International experts with the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that the anti-viral drug remdesivir shouldn't be used to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19, regardless of "disease severity."

"The panel found a lack of evidence that remdesivir improved outcomes that matter to patients such as reduced mortality, need for mechanical ventilation, time to clinical improvement and others," the WHO Guideline Development Group (GDG) said, following up on a report last month. 

The panel said that their recommendation didn't not mean that there were no potential benefits for patients. However, the experts felt there was insufficient evidence of remdesivir having a meaningful effect on death rates or recovery times for patients, particularly when considering that it is costly and difficult to administer as it has to be given intravenously. 

"Especially given the costs and resource implications associated with remdesivir ... the panel felt the responsibility should be on demonstrating evidence of efficacy, which is not established by the current available data," the GDG said in its non-binding report.

Manufacturer Gilead questions findings

The anti-viral drug is manufactured by US pharmaceutical company Gilead, which disputes the findings.

"[Remdesivir] is recognized as a standard of care for the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in guidelines from numerous credible national organizations, including the US National Institutes of Health and Infectious Diseases Society of America, Japan, [the] UK and Germany," it said in a response, using the drug's brand name Veklury, claiming that the WHO's findings were yet to be subjected to peer review.

Last week, the head of one of the world's top intensive care bodies recommended that the drug not be administered on patients in critical care wards. Jozef Kesecioglu, the President of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM), cited the WHO's Solidarity Trial findings as the reason for his recommendation.

The WHO's latest recommendation comes after the European Union had placed an order for 500,000 courses of remdesivir, as multiple countries raced to secure stocks earlier in the year. The EU, United States and several other countries rapidly granted temporary approval for the drug to be used on COVID-19 patients after it showed initial promise in shortening recovery time.

Remdesivir is currently approved for use as a COVID-19 in over 50 countries and was one of the medications administered to US President Donald Trump when he was diagnosed in October.

Vaccine against COVID-19: Pandemic under control?

am/rs (AFP, Reuters)

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