Remdesivir: Grasping at Straws!

By Shlomo Maital

     There is a massive amount of fake news circulating now about COVID-19, some of it racist, pernicious and dangerous. There is also well-meaning news, reports that want to bring hope but in fact are simply grasping at straws.

     A report now viral, emanating from the University of Chicago, is about how an anti-viral drug developed by a pharma company, Gilead, has helped seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

     Remdesivir is an antiviral medication; a nucleotide analog, specifically an adenosine analogue, which inserts into viral RNA chains, causing their premature termination. It is being studied during 2020 as a possible post-infection treatment for COVID-19 illness.

A U of Chicago doctor participated in an internal hospital video in which she reported that when seriously ill patients administered remdesivir, many recovered.

The video reached some hospital employees, who leaked it to journalists. That led to a highly optimistic report.

This is not a clinical test. There is no protocol, and no placebo (sugar pill given to some patients).

   The drug, made by Gilead Sciences, was tested against Ebola with little success, but multiple studies in animals showed the drug could both prevent and treat coronaviruses related to Covid-19, including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

     We are all desperate for some good news. But grasping at straws is not going to help. The journalists who reported this “scoop” should have told us exactly what the source was, an internal chatty ‘gossip’ video of the kind that circulates in most hospitals.

     The journalist who DID inform us was the CNN medical correspondent, is Elizabeth Cohen, who has serious training and deep scientific knowledge. She has a Master’s degree in public health. Her colleague is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon; together they comprise “the horse’s mouth” and to mix a metaphor, a horse’s mouth that does NOT grasp at straws.