Hennepin Healthcare looks to start clinical trials on drug that could fight COVID-19

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A new drug is being called a "ray of hope" in treating COVID-19.

Now, the anti-viral drug remdesivir is the focus of two clinical trials in Minnesota.

“This is a medicine that directly attacks the virus,” said Jason Baker, Hennepin Healthcare’s infectious disease director. “Rendesivir is one of the only direct anti-viral medicines that’s being studied in the context of COVID-19.”

Doctors at the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute hope to enroll about 1,000 patients now hospitalized with moderate or severe COVID-19.

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Initially, remdesivir was developed to treat Ebola but failed to stop that virus. But now, it’s been found the drug has an effect on other forms of coronavirus, including SARS and MERS.

"It was found to be very active against that virus in the lab, so it was quickly escalated to human studies for the COVID outbreak,” Baker said.

The drug, which has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is administered through an IV and works by preventing the virus from growing.

"So it actually stops replication of the virus,” Baker said. “The virus isn’t able to replicate its genetic material."

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Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir, has given it to more than 1,700 patients on a case-by-case emergency basis.

Hennepin Healthcare says it wants to determine if the drug is beneficial and safe.

Researchers also hope to learn whether it’s better for patients to use when they first contract the virus, or later, when it progresses to a severe illness.

“If we think something might be beneficial, we are definitely trying to bring access to it to our patients and offer it,” Baker said.

The trials could be completed by early May — a process that normally takes years. After that, it will be up to the FDA to decide whether to approve the drug in the fight against COVID-19.

"It’s a challenging time,” Baker said. “I think we’re all struggling through this, trying to do well by our patients, but also being both responsible and safe.”