Experimental drug shows promise in severely-ill ship passengers with coronavirus

An experimental antiviral drug called remdesivir appeared to be beneficial when tested on a small group of American cruise ship passengers treated for the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Japan, according to a researcher with the NIH.  The drug appeared to boost survival among this group of critically ill patients. However, data are limited.

Rear Admiral Richard Childs, M.D., an assistant surgeon general and lung specialist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the NIH, said 14 Americans who contracted the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and were treated at Japanese hospitals were evaluated to receive the experimental drug from Gilead Sciences Inc. The 14 passengers were all critically ill people whose average age is 75, he said. Only four patients received the experimental drug. 

Childs described many in this group as near death. Two weeks after treatment, no one died and more than half recovered, he noted. He described their recovery as “amazing.” But Childs cautioned, “It’s going to take us a while to figure out what the impact of the drug has been.”

The drug is being tested in the United States and Asia by independent groups as well as Gilead. But no  large-scale results are available. Trials comparing the drug to placebo are expected to begin next month in Japan.