On the basis of as yet unpublished data, remdesivir “will be the standard of care” for patients with COVID-19, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said during a press conference at the White House April 29.
The randomized, placebo-controlled international trial was sponsored by NIAID, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and enrolled 1,063 patients. It began on Feb. 21.
The interim results, discussed in the press conference and in a NIAID, show that time to recovery (i.e., being well enough for hospital discharge or to return to normal activity level) was 31% faster for patients who received remdesivir than for those who received placebo (P < .001).
The median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with remdesivir, compared with 15 days for those who received placebo. Results also suggested a survival benefit, with a mortality rate of 8.0% for the group receiving remdesivir and 11.6% for the patients who received placebo (P = .059).
The study, known as the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial (ACTT), is the first clinical trial launched in the United States to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19. It is being conducted at 68 sites – 47 in the United States and 21 in countries in Europe and Asia.
The data are being released after an interim review by the independent data safety monitoring board found significant benefit with the drug, Dr. Fauci said.
“The reason we are making the announcement now is something that people don’t fully appreciate: Whenever you have clear-cut evidence that a drug works, you have an ethical obligation to let the people in the placebo group know so they could have access,” he explained.
“When I was looking at the data with our team the other night, it was reminiscent of 34 years ago in 1986 when we were struggling for drugs for HIV,” said Dr. Fauci, who was a key figure in HIV/AIDS research. “We did the first randomized, placebo-controlled trial with AZT. It turned out to have an effect that was modest but that was not the endgame because, building on that, every year after, we did better and better.”
Similarly, new trials of drugs for COVID-19 will build on remdesivir, with other agents being added to block other pathways or viral enzymes, Dr. Fauci said.
The study will be submitted to a journal for peer review, he noted, but theis reporting that the Food and Drug Administration will approve remdesivir for emergency use soon.
In contrast to the positive results Dr. Fauci described from the NIAID-sponsored trial, a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of remdesivir among hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 in China was inconclusive.
The study, published online in The, showed some nonsignificant trends toward benefit but did not meet its primary endpoint.
The study was stopped early after 237 of the intended 453 patients were enrolled, owing to a lack of additional patients who met the eligibility criteria. The trial was thus underpowered.
Results showed that treatment with remdesivir did not significantly speed recovery or reduce deaths from COVID-19, but with regard to prespecified secondary outcomes, time to clinical improvement and duration of invasive mechanical ventilation were shorter among a subgroup of patients who began undergoing treatment with remdesivir within 10 days of showing symptoms, in comparison with patients who received standard care.
“To me, the studies reported here in The Lancet appear to be less promising than some statements released today from the NIH, so the situation is a bit puzzling to me,” said Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the study. “I would need to look more closely at the data which NIH is looking at to understand the differences.”