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World Health Organization does not recommend using remdesivir to treat COVID-19

Published on 20/11/20 at 01:02pm
Photo by United States Mission Geneva

The World Health Organization does not recommend using Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir to treat hospitalised COVID-19 patients, no matter how severe their illness may be.

This advice was published in BMJ and says the current evidence suggests the drug won’t increase the chances of survival or stop a patient needing ventilation. 

This comes a month after the drug from Gilead gained FDA approval for the treatment of coronavirus, becoming the first approved for this purpose. Yesterday the FDA also gave an Emergency Use Authorization to a combination treatment of remdesivir and baricitinib (an arthritis drug) to treat the coronavirus. 

To make the decision, the WHO convened an international panel of 24 experts and four survivors of COVID-19 to review data and make recommendations. They decided not to recommend the drug to treat the virus based on data from four randomised trials including 7,333 people hospitalised with the illness. 

The new guidlines from the WHO said: “The panel concluded that most patients would not prefer intravenous treatment with remdesivir given the low certainty evidence. Any beneficial effects of remdesivir, if they do exist, are likely to be small and the possibility of important harm remains.

“They acknowledged, however, that values and preferences are likely to vary, and there will be patients and clinicians who choose to use remdesivir given the evidence has not excluded the possibility of benefit."

Gilead responded to the WHO decision and the company said: “We are disappointed the WHO guidelines appear to ignore this evidence at a time when cases are dramatically increasing around the world and doctors are relying on Veklury/remdesivir as the first and only approved antiviral treatment for patients with COVID-19 in approximately 50 countries."

Conor Kavanagh

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