Target Health Blog

Remdesivir (Gilead Sciences) Prevents Mers Coronavirus Disease In Monkeys

February 24, 2020


To our friends and colleagues in China and around the world, be safe and to the spectacular pharmaceutical industry, for which we are proud members, this is a shining moment.

Remdesivir, an experimental antiviral developed by Gilead Sciences, as a treatment for Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus infections, was also been found to show antiviral activity against other single stranded RNA viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus, Junin virus, Lassa fever virus, Nipah virus, Hendra virus, and coronaviruses (including MERS and SARS viruses). Remdesivir has previously protected animals against a variety of viruses in lab experiments. The drug has been shown experimentally to effectively treat monkeys infected with Ebola and Nipah viruses. Remdesivir also has been investigated as a treatment for Ebola virus disease in people.

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is closely related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has grown to be a global public health emergency since cases were first detected in Wuhan, China, in December According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (13 February 2020), remdesivir successfully prevented disease in rhesus macaques infected with MERS-CoV when administered before infection, and improved the condition of macaques when given after the animals already were infected.

The current study was conducted at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana. The work involved three groups of animals: those treated with remdesivir 24 hours before infection with MERS-CoV; those treated 12 hours after infection (close to the peak time for MERS-CoV replication in these animals); and untreated control animals. During the 6-day observation period, all control animals showed signs of respiratory disease. In contrast, all animals treated before infection fared well: no signs of respiratory disease, significantly lower levels of virus replication in the lungs compared to control animals, and no lung damage. Animals treated after infection fared significantly better than the control animals: disease was less severe than in control animals, their lungs had lower levels of virus than the control animals, and the damage to the lungs was less severe.

The authors stated that the promising study results support additional clinical trials of remdesivir for MERS-CoV and 2019-nCoV. At least two clinical trials of remdesivir for 2019-nCoV are under way in China, and other patients with 2019-nCoV infection have received the drug under a compassionate use protocol.

MERS-CoV emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Through December 2019, the World Health Organization had confirmed 2,499 MERS-CoV cases and 861 deaths (or about 1 in 3). Because about one-third of MERS-CoV cases spread from infected people being treated in healthcare settings, the authors suggest that remdesivir could effectively prevent disease in other patients, contacts of patients, and healthcare workers. They also note the drug might help patients who are diagnosed with MERS or 2019-nCoV if given soon after symptoms start.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also provided support for this study. Gilead Sciences, Inc., developed remdesivir, also known as GS-5734, and collaborated in the research.

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