Remdesivir: The ‘magic’ antiviral COVID-19 drug that it is not

According to a study by the US National Institutes of Health, Remdesivir can cut the recovery time for COVID-19 patients by five days from 15 days to 10 on average.

Hyderabad: The massive surge in COVID-19 cases in the ongoing second wave in India has lead to a sudden shortage and increase in demand of essential treatment supplies like oxygen, medicines, ventilator and beds. And interestingly, the Remdesivir drug has also become a sought after item this time, in spite of the World Health Organisation recommending against its use time and again.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has clearly said that there is still no evidence to indicate that Remdesivir is beneficial in treating hospitalised coronavirus patients.

Earlier in April, WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan and its Technical Lead on COVID, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, told India Today TV that findings from five clinical trials in the past show that the use of the antiviral drug has not helped in curtailing mortality or reducing the need for mechanical ventilation among hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

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Predicated on the clinical trials, the WHO had issued guidelines against the use of Remdesivir in hospitalised COVID-19 patients last year in November

Talking about the prior clinical trials of Remdesivir, Dr. Swaminathan said, “Based on available evidence, there were about five trials… which essentially showed that Remdesivir given to hospitalised patients, didn’t reduce mortality, it didn’t reduce the duration of hospitalisation and it didn’t affect the progression of the disease”.

Despite this, so high is the demand in cities like Hyderabad, that each vial of the Remdesivir drug is being sold for about Rs.30,000, as against an entire dose of it being priced a little over that amount. While the drug is being utilised with the belief that it relieves a patient’s suffering with severe COVID-19 symptoms, Indian and even World health Organisation (WHO) authorities claim that Remdesivir is not a life-saving drug and that it’s unnecessary use is unethical.

What is Remdesivir?

Remdesivir (Veklury) was the first drug approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for treating the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It’s indicated was for treatment of the COVID-19 disease in hospitalized adults and children aged 12 years and older, who weigh at least 40 kg.

According to a study by the US National Institutes of Health, Remdesivir can cut the recovery time for COVID-19 patients by five days from 15 days to 10 on average. The drug is a patented antiviral drug manufactured by Gilead (US), initially developed for the treatment of viral hepatitis, and a cold-like virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Due to its initial response against the virus, the US FDA approved Remdesivir to treat COVID-19.

In India, the Ministry of Health also recommended it as an investigational therapy in their COVID-19 management protocol document, however, clarified that it is not a “life-saving drug”.

Considering India is battling not just a deadly virus, but also a crumbling health infrastructure, people are ready to try any means of survival during this critical time. As the country experiences a high spike in the number of cases, Dr. Randeep Guleria, the director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi said on Monday, “Remdesivir isn’t magic bullet and isn’t a drug that decreases mortality.”

“We may use Remdesivir as we don’t have an anti-viral drug. Remdesivir was proven useful for those in hospitals and on oxygen…it can’t be taken like a regular antibiotic,” he added. He further emphasized that the anti-viral drug must only be given to people who are hospitalised, have a fall in oxygen saturation and have infiltrates on the chest X-ray or CT-scan.

That said, while social media is swamped with requests for Remdesivir, some reports suggest that the prices of Remdesivir have shot up in the black market and are being sold at unreasonable price to desperate patients. The Centre has said Remdesivir should be given only to serious Covid-19 patients who require oxygen support.

The police have also been tracking illegal black marketing of the drug in different states. In a recent crackdown of black marketing of the Remdesivir drug on Tuesday (April 20),the Hyderabad police arrested four persons, including two owners of pharmacies at Yousufguda and Nampally, for selling injections of Covifor (Remdesivir) at high prices and without any medical prescriptions. They were found selling the drug for as high as Rs 35,000.

In the other case, three others, including another medical shop owner, were arrested by the Hyderabad police officials for also trying to sell the Covifor drug at high prices to families of patients suffering from COVID-19 on April 20.

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