CHICAGO — Remdesivir, the only drug given emergency approval for treatment of COVID-19, appears to provide equal benefits to white, Asian, Black and Latino patients, according to an analysis led by researchers at University of Chicago Medicine.
It’s encouraging news, infectious disease experts say, because of the disparate effects of the disease on different groups. Black people are dying at higher rates than people of other races, and Latinos are contracting the disease at higher rates than others.
Dr. Kathleen Mullane, a UChicago Medicine infectious disease expert, said the results — which were reviewed by other scientists but are not published in a medical journal — are particularly encouraging for her institution given that it treats many patients of color. “We are so proud and excited and happy that our patients did well,” she said.
Mullane led UChicago Medicine’s arm of a drug trial conducted by Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of the antiviral drug. It was one of two studies, with the other conducted by the National Institutes of Health, that led the Food and Drug Administration to issue an emergency use authorization for remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.
The trials found that patients placed on remdesivir who recovered did so faster than those who did not receive the drug, which is administered intravenously and is being rationed by the federal government. Those faster recovery times are helpful to both patients who are suffering and hospitals at risk of becoming overwhelmed with caseloads, doctors said.
UChicago’s new analysis, relying on data from the Gilead trial, showed that “traditionally marginalized racial/ethnic groups do not have worse clinical outcomes compared to other groups,” according to a presentation by Mullane at a virtual international conference on COVID-19. In fact, Black patients had slightly better outcomes than the other three racial and ethnic groups that were analyzed, the presentation states.
The data, the researchers said, was adjusted to account for preexisting risk factors. Although many women participated in the study, there was no evaluation in the analysis of how well female patients fared compared with men. Further evaluations of the data are being conducted.
Mullane said there may be benefits to expanding the use of remdesivir so it’s given to patients earlier in the trajectory of their disease — in keeping with UChicago Medicine’s efforts to get people on the drug before they “needed aggressive ventilation” to help them breathe.
“If we were able to treat people earlier, we might be able to do even better,” Mullane said in an article on the analysis prepared by UChicago Medicine. “We want to start therapy while the virus is present and actively replicating, not after it’s cleared and the immune system has gone haywire.”
She was referring to an overreaction to COVID-19 by the immune system that afflicts some patients and becomes as much of a problem as the disease itself.
Some doctors are using the steroid dexamethasone to treat COVID-19 patients after they have been placed on ventilators. It appears to lower death rates in those patients, but supply is an issue.
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