The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended against using one of the only drugs approved to treat Covid-19 around the world, saying it has found no evidence to suggest that Gilead’s remdesivir helps hospitalized patients recover or improves their outcomes.
An expert WHO panel said Friday that it does not recommend remdesivir for any patients hospitalized with Covid-19, no matter how sick they are, as there is no evidence the drug will help or improve patient outcomes.
The panel “found a lack of evidence that remdesivir improved outcomes that matter to patients such as reduced mortality, need for mechanical ventilation, time to clinical improvement, and others,” it wrote.
The advice, which was based on a review of evidence including data from four international trials covering more than 7,000 hospitalized Covid-19 patients, was published in the British Medical Journal as part of the group’s “living guideline,” where clinical recommendations are updated as new evidence comes in.
The panel emphasized that their advice doesn’t mean remdesivir has no benefit, just that there is no evidence suggesting that it improves outcomes important to patients, especially given the fact that remdesivir is expensive and must be administered intravenously.
The new advice follows a major WHO-run trial that determined remdesivir to have little effect in preventing Covid-19 deaths, something the manufacturer Gilead strongly contested.
Forbes has approached Gilead for comment.
In the early stages of the pandemic, remdesivir, which maker Gilead markets as Veklury, was a source of hope for many. Early trials were promising and the antiviral was approved for emergency use around the world, and it remains one of the few licensed medicines to treat Covid-19. Donald Trump was a huge proponent of the drug, leaving the rest of the world high and dry as he secured almost the entire world supply for the U.S. in June. His enthusiasm grew after receiving the drug himself after being diagnosed with Covid-19, while he incorrectly touted another treatment he received, Regeneron’s antibody therapeutic, as a cure..
The WHO’s recommendation is at odds with that of the FDA, which in October approved the drug to treat coronavirus in the U.S.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized Eli Lilly’s rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib and remdesivir for Covid-19 treatment Thursday, the first drug combination authorized by the FDA as a therapeutic for the virus.