Posted on: March 21, 2020 at 2:47 pm
Last updated: September 12, 2020 at 9:24 pm

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in December 2019, scientists and medical researchers have been working to find a cure for the disease. While many attempts have fallen short, there may be renewed hope.

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A drug that was once developed to fight Ebola but was deemed ineffective is now getting a second chance at success in the fight against COVID-19.

Italian Man Recovers with help from Ebola Drug

Finally, there appears to be a light in the search for an effective anti-corona drug, and it has come in the form of a drug called remdesivir.

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Doctors in Liguria, Italy, recently administered the drug to a 79-year-old man infected with coronavirus and recently announced that he had recovered after twelve days in the hospital and could return home [1].

The drug has now been used to treat a critically ill American woman, as well as fourteen other Americans, four of whom had contracted the virus onboard the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship.

Remdesivir was initially developed by the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences to treat Ebola. It showed initial promise, but after it failed to produce effective results when compared to other treatments, research on the drug came to a stop [2,3].

Currently, there is no approved treatment for any coronavirus infection, but the Trump administration has put out a statement that they will help patients with the virus access the drug through a special government program that allows sick patients to try therapies that are still in experimental phases [2].

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The first trial results of Remdesivir are expected next month, and Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization has high hopes for its success. 

“There’s only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy,” he said. “And that’s remdesivir.” [4]

Read: Why Are People Hoarding Toilet Paper? Psychologists Have An Answer

How Does Remdesivir Work?

Remdesivir is known as an RNA polymerase inhibitor. In order to understand what that means, you need to know the following definitions:

DNA is the abbreviation of deoxyribonucleic acid and is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms in which all of our genetic material is encoded. In short, your DNA makes up who you are [5].

RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. RNA is less stable than DNA, so organisms that need to change rapidly use it as their genetic material as opposed to DNA. Viruses tend to use RNA to store genetic material so they can replicate faster, allowing them to stay one step ahead of their host.

RNA Polymerase is an enzyme that makes RNA from a DNA template, a process called transcription. This is an essential enzyme that is found in the cells of all organisms, including viruses [7].

RNA viruses, such as COVID-19, reproduce much less accurately, which gives them a significantly higher mutation rate than any other organism on earth. The advantage of such a high “error” rate is that these viruses are capable of rapidly outmaneuvering their host’s immune system [8].

RNA viruses are also able to quickly jump to a new host, which reduces the pressure not to harm the host, making them much more pathogenic [8].

Remdesivir works to neutralize RNA polymerase within the virus’ genome. It didn’t have a significant effect on humans to combat the ebola virus, but it still remains a functional antiviral drug with the capability to destroy a number of viruses [1].

Remdesivir’s Efficacy Remains Unclear

Despite its success stories, scientists are still unclear on just how much of a role the drug has played in the recovery of patients.

Richard Childs, an assistant surgeon general and lung specialist at the National Institutes of Health described the patients who were treated with the drug as “near death”, and said their recovery was “amazing”, but he is cautious about getting too excited.

“It’s going to take us a while to figure out what the impact of the drug has been,” he said [9].

Many investors are not quite ready to jump on board with the still-experimental drug, including Financial analysts RBC Capital Markets.

“Based on our review of the clinical and virological courses, we believe remdesivir’s contribution to efficacy remains unclear, and with a side-effect profile that may not be completely benign,” the company stated. “We continue to see a less than 50/50 possibility that the drug is ultimately proven effective.” [1]

Read: ‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?

Other Potential Treatments

With the virus spreading rapidly across the globe, scientists are not wasting any time testing multiple treatment options, and as Professor Jonathan Ball, of the University of Nottingham, said, there are “other irons in the fire” [1].

Researchers are testing other antiviral drugs that could treat the virus, such as interleukin-6 inhibitors. These drugs could reduce inflammation in the lungs and improve lung function in patients with COVID-19, which could slow down the progression of severe respiratory symptoms [10].

Researchers are also working to understand the strength of the immune response to the novel coronavirus, and how well that response protects patients from the virus in the future. Preliminary research that has not yet been published has found that COVID-19 patients produce high levels of antibodies– a sign that they won’t get sick from the virus the next time they are exposed to it. More study needs to be done, however, to determine whether or not the antibodies could actually provide a therapeutic benefit [11].

Scientists believe that blood plasma from patients who have recovered from the virus could provide a possible treatment for the most at-risk people. The blood from a recovered patient should be full of protective substances like antibodies, which when injected into sick people, could fight disease.

There is a certain risk associated with the treatment, however, because the use of plasma has the potential to make any subsequent infection with the virus worse [11].

How You Can Help

During a pandemic such as this, the most important thing you can do is practice social distancing to slow down the spread of the virus in order to reduce the burden on our healthcare system. This will also buy time for scientists to find a potential treatment for the disease.

Keep Reading: ‘Stay Away from Other People’ Says Coronavirus Patient from Hospital Bed on Social Distancing

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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