Remdesivir Revisited

 In news

Recent history

As readers of this Newsfeed may recall in an article published on 6 March this year (doesn’t that seem a long time ago in a pandemic where time crawls) an IP dispute between the US and China was brewing in connection with a possible Covid-19 treatment called remdesivir. For the full article click on (hyperlink?) but, in short, the salient facts were that a Californian company called Gilead Sciences held the patent on an existing anti-viral drug being re-purposed to address the worst excesses of Covid-19 infection.

The drug, remdesivir, was originally designed as a treatment for Ebola but side-lined in favour of more effective alternatives.China, early on in its Covid-19 outbreak, was rapidly attempting to reverse engineer the drug to use it as a treatment. China did so without permission from Gilead intending to apply retrospectively for a license to manufacture it.


On April 29th the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the States, which had been running treatment trials of remdesivirin the US and Europe,said preliminary data demonstrated it had some positive effect.

How it works

It’s perhaps worth looking, for a minute, at the science behind this medication. The Economist reports remdesivir is a nucleotide analogue. It works by mimicking one of the chemical letters of the virus’s genetic code. The fake chemical letter interrupts the virus’s replication mechanism. It’s a bit clumsy as a scientific tool but it does have a positive effect albeit not dramatic. In US trials the drug improved patient’s recovery time from 15 days to 11 when hospitalised. Useful when hospital beds are in short supply.

With the express permission of its manufacturer and until recently on compassionate grounds only, remdesivir has been used in the UK. In one reported case on GMBTV involving a British teenager, it was heralded as lifesaving. It seems to work at its best for those patients with alarming increases in viral load as the sickness sets in beyond the seven to eight-day stage. Timing the dose is critical.

On 26th May the Department of Health and Social Security approved remdesivir as the first medicine to treat Covid-19 in the UK.Pulse reported it was authorised for selected NHS patients only, with a view to speeding up their recovery process.

In truth, although undeniably positive news in the fight against Covid-19, remdesivir will be but part of a range of possible treatments and drugs at the disposal of medical professionals.

Unanswered questions

According to some respected biotech journals, in mid-April the World Health Organisation (WHO) via its website,accidentally posted data from a China study showing remdesivir neither improved the patient’s condition nor tamped down on the amount of virus in their blood (viral load) saying it was a “flop”.

How odd you might well ask when other trials have unequivocally demonstrated its efficacy and its clinical use is now embraced in the US and Europe.


Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited 
+44 (0) 203 920 9985
Written and researched by Ben Fairclough


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