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WHO defends data after US drug flops in COVID-19 trial

October 16, 2020

An independent scientist hired by the WHO to evaluate its trial results has said the data is "reliable" and acts as "real world evidence" that US drug remdesivir did not significantly help coronavirus patients.

A lab technician shoes the tratment drug "remdesivir" at a facility in Cairo, Egypt
Image: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday defended its trial that concluded the anti-viral drug remdesivir  "appeared to have little or no effect" on COVID-19 patients.

The UN agency hired independent statistician and epidemiologist Richard Peto to evaluate its "Solidarity Therapeutics Trial" results after US biopharmaceutical company Gilead criticized the WHO's methodology, saying the trial's findings appeared inconsistent with evidence from other studies.

"It's a reliable result, don't let anybody tell you otherwise, because they'll try to," Peto told reporters on Friday. "This is real world evidence."

The WHO said that the trial, which included 11,000 patients in 30 countries, found that four drugs had little to no effect on survival and on the progression of the disease among hospitalized patients.

Gilead stocks slipped 1.3% following the release of the WHO study. 

The study has yet to be peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

A cure for COVID-19: What's in the pipeline?

Results disappoint EU

The announcement dashed the European Union's hopes, which had rooted for remdesivir. The European Commission announced a contract earlier this month to secure more remdesivir supplies for up to 500,000 patients.

Despite uncertainties about its effectiveness, remdesivir was the first drug approved by the EU to treat severe cases of COVID-19. 

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

Gilead, which obtained the WHO's Solidarity trial data 10 days ago, said that the findings appear "inconsistent with more robust evidence from multiple randomized, controlled studies published in peer-reviewed journals validating the clinical benefit of remdesivir," Reuters reported.

US President Donald Trump has also received remdesivir as well as dexamethasone and a cocktail of other drugs for his coronavirus infection, according to White House doctors. 

WHO: Other trials continue

Later on Friday, the WHO said it would persevere with monitoring the efficacy of monoclonal antibodies and other antiviral drugs in its trial of potential coronavirus treatments.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said its Solidarity Trial would not be halted after the organization found remdesivir had little or no effect in treating patients with COVID-19. The trial, which was launched in March this year
in 500 hospitals across 30 countries, will continue to gauge the effectiveness of several other drugs as the health organization seeks solutions to a virus that has killed over 1.1 million people worldwide.

mvb,jsi/rs (Reuters, dpa)