May 26, 2020
Remdesivir is making headlines as a potential “cure” for COVID-19, but there’s some misinformation surrounding it. SolutionHealth’s pharmaceutical experts are clearing up fact from fiction.
Remdesivir is an investigational, antiviral medication that is currently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a potential treatment for COVID-19. “Originally it was tested against the Ebola virus, but did not prove effective. In recent studies it has shown promise in treating COVID-19 both in the lab and in humans,” John Berard, RPh, MBA, Assistant Director of Pharmacy Services at Southern New Hampshire Health System, says.
Currently, the drug is being used under an Emergency Use Authorization by the commissioner of the FDA. That approval allows unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions.
“In some cases, if remdesivir is given early enough, it can limit symptoms and progression of the virus. If given in later stages it helps the body mount a defense,” Berard explains.
Molly Mortimer, Pharm,D, MHA, BCPS, Director of Pharmacy Services at Elliot Health Systems, says, “It may also be useful in shortening the duration of the illness caused by COVID-19.”
But they both agree, that with any newly proposed therapy, it takes a fair amount of time to understand if there is true benefit and the associated risks of use.
Mortimer explains, “This therapy is not a magic bullet that removes the effects of COVID-19.”
Berard concurs saying, “The biggest piece of misinformation that I have heard recently is that remdesivir is going to make the virus go away.”
To qualify to be treated with remdesivir, a patient must meet very specific guidelines set by the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization. “It is reserved for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19. We have very limited, sporadic supply and our teams are working closely with the infectious disease physicians to approve patients based on clinical presentation,” says Mortimer.
Both Elliot Health System and Southern New Hampshire Health System (who make up SolutionHealth) are treating some COVID-19 patients with remdesivir. The drug is administered via IV infusion, over one hour each day, for either a five- or ten-day course.
Before any doses of the medication are given to patients, both the risks and benefits are discussed. If a patient consents, then remdesivir treatment can begin. If a patient is incapacitated and cannot make their own decision, then a designated family member is consulted to make the decision. Under normal circumstances, a family member would not be able to consent for the drug, but in New Hampshire, by executive order, it’s currently being allowed.
“Each day the employees of SNHH come to work to positively impact the lives of their patients and the community around us, we have continued that throughout this current pandemic. Moving forward we believe that remdesivir will be part of that, but at this point nobody knows exactly to what extent,” Berard explains.
Mortimer says it’s too soon to know if EHS has future plans for remdesivir. “Our use will be guided by clinical outcomes and supporting evidence as we continue to gain experience on a local and national level.”