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Antiviral Drug Remdesivir To Be Used For Seriously Ill COVID-19 Patients

May 05, 2020

Hartford HealthCare will start using the recently-approved drug remdesivir for specific, extremely ill COVID-19 patients within the next week.

Eric Arlia, MBA, RPh, senior director of pharmacy for the system, said he expects a supply from the federal government, which is distributing the drug to healthcare facilities based on the number of seriously ill patients and ICU (intensive-care unit) beds they have.

“This is the first step in a multistep approach to treating this disease,” Arlia told reporters May 5 in the daily HHC news briefing. “We probably won’t have one drug to cure it all.”

The Food and Drug Administration recently granted emergency approval for the use of remdesivir in COVID-19 patients. The antiviral medication was initially developed to treat hepatitis C and Ebola virus. Arlia said the decision came after limited research showed that the drug reduces hospitalization in COVID-19 patients from an average of 15 days to 11.

“We’re excited to have this,” Arlia said, although he quickly added, “More research needs to be done, but we do know that there are greater benefits than harm from using it.”

Casey Dempsey, PharmD, an infectious disease clinical pharmacist with HHC, explained that a randomized trial conducted by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases found that remdesivir was helpful in 31 percent of patients, shortening the course of the virus.

“There is promise that there is an agent with efficacy against the virus,” she said.

Delivered in intravenous form, the medication can only be administered in the hospital. There are no age restrictions as to the patients who can receive it.

“The FDA has said it’s for patients with severe COVID, with decreased oxygenation, on a ventilator or ECMO,” Dr. Dempsey said.

The course of the medication varies from as few as five days to as many as 10, depending on the severity of the disease. So far, only patients with abnormal liver function might not be considered the best candidates for the treatment.

“We will be evaluating it on a case by case basis,” she said.

Arlia said HHC clinicians have used Remdesivir several times on a “compassionate use basis” with severely ill patients and it has been helpful.

The manufacturer of the drug, Gilead, is investigating other formulations that might be given as an injection or inhaled. It cannot be taken orally because of the way the body breaks it down. Other forms would enable distribution for patients outside the hospital setting, potentially earlier in the virus course.

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