White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that research finding the drug remdesivir reduces coronavirus recovery times is a “highly significant” breakthrough that will improve COVID-19 treatment.
Fauci told reporters in the Oval Office that a study finding that the drug reduced hospitalization times was akin to an early breakthrough in treating HIV.
“Although a 31 percent improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout hundred percent, it’s a very important proof of concept. Because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said.
“It was reminiscent of 34 years ago, in 1986, when we were struggling for drugs for HIV, and we had nothing,” Fauci said. “We did the first randomized placebo-controlled trial with ACT, which turned out to give an effect that was modest. But that was not the endgame because of building on that every year after we did better and better. We had better drugs of the same type.”
HIV drugs were honed to suppress the virus and extend lives by decades.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said preliminary remdesivir study results featured a placebo group and more than 1,090 hospitalized patients in the US and at least five European countries.
The research was conducted by Fauci’s agency.
“This drug happens to be blocking an enzyme that the virus uses,” Fauci said of remdesivir. “And that’s an RNA polymerase but there are a lot of other enzymes that virus uses that are now going to be targets for this. This will be the standard of care.”
Fauci dismissed a different study of the drug, conducted in China, which found the drug ineffective, saying it was “an underpowered study.”
“I don’t like to pooh-pooh other studies, but that’s not an adequate study and everybody in the field feels that,” he said.
President Trump, sitting near Fauci in the Oval Office, hailed the development.
“It’s a beginning. Tony explained it really well, it’s a beginning,” Trump said. “It means you build on it. I love that as a building block.”
More than 1 million US residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly 60,000 have died. As of last week, 26 million Americans — or about 16 percent of all workers — had lost their jobs as a result of the virus and government-ordered closures.