(CNN) — There’s new hope in the search for a drug to treat the coronavirus as researchers work toward a vaccine.
On NBC’s Today show on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it’s safe and it’s effective. I think that is doable if things fall in the right place.
“Remember, go back in time, I was saying in January and February that it would be a year to 18 months (to develop a vaccine), so January is a year, so it isn’t that much from what I had originally said.”
Scientists as Oxford University said they’re working on a vaccine that could be ready by September.
As for treating coronavirus patients right now, Fauci says there’s been positive effects with remdesivir – a drug in initially intended to treat the Ebola virus.
That application wasn’t fruitful — but there are signs that remdesivir may be useful in reducing the lethality and severity of the coronavirus.
Fauci said, “The data shows that remdesivir has a clear cut significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.”
Remdesivir was a drug developed for Ebola, but it didn’t work very well for that virus.
It’s never actually been on the market for any illness.
In preliminary results of this new study sponsored by the national institutes of health, more than 1,000 patients were randomly assigned to take either remdesivir or a placebo.
It took the placebo patients 15 days to recover.
It took the remdesivir patients 11 days to recover, a 31% improvement.
“Although a 31 percent improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout, 100 percent, it is a very important proof of concept because what it is proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said.
Specifically, the drug blocks an enzyme the virus needs to replicate. Researchers can use that knowledge to create other drugs.
“There are a lot of other enzymes that the virus uses that are now going to be targets for this,” Fauci said.
Plus, four fewer days in the hospital means less time for something to go wrong, like a hospital-acquired infection.
Dr. Andre Khalil, trial researcher for the University of Nebraska, said, “If you stay four more days in a hospital intubated in a ventilator, you increase dramatically the chances that you’re gonna have nosocomial infections and the chances that you’re going to die.”
Another advantage: it’s thought that the drug has few side effects:
Trial researcher Dr. Aneesh Mehta said, “Through the data we had in our trials in Ebola patients, we knew that the side effects were pretty minimal and in patients and they were easily reversed when the medication was stopped.”
But researchers are clear: this is not by any means a cure for coronavirus
I think that we are seeing a slight glimmer of hope here but I worry that the exuberance is related to an old saying that ‘there’s no sauce better than hunger.’ And we want something so bad that even something that looks a little bit promising is getting blown out of proportion in terms of what it means for the number of lives we are going to save here,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust of the Harvard Medical School.
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