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Bubbly optimism and happy talk are not qualities that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has shared with the American people during his weeks of helping to lead America’s fight against the coronavirus.
But on Wednesday, an energetic Fauci called the development of a drug to treat those suffering from COVID-19 “quite good news.”‘
Gilead Sciences announced what it described as positive results from a drug called remdesivir. That led to the drug being discussed during a White House event during which President Donald Trump, along with several health experts, met with Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. Trump was asked about the drug and deferred to Fauci.
“Well, it seems to be good news. I’d rather have you guys maybe respond to it a little bit, but it seems to be good news. Gilead has — it’s really one of a number of companies that are coming up with some pretty positive things. But, I mean, I can only tell you what’s been reported to me. It’s certainly a positive. We’ll have to see how it all works out,” Trump said.
Fauci then called the development “quite good news” and explained why.
“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” he said.
“This is really quite important for a number of reasons, and I’ll give you the data. It’s highly significant. If you look at the time to recovery being shorter in the remdesivir arm, it was 11 days, compared to 15 days,” he said.
“So that’s something that — although a 31 percent improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout 100 percent, it is a very important proof of concept. Because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus. And I’ll give you an example in a moment of why we think, looking forward, this is very optimistic,” he said.
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“The mortality rate trended towards being better, in the sense of less deaths in the remdesivir group,” he continued, noting that the data still needed further analysis.
“The reason why we’re making the announcement now is something that I believe people don’t fully appreciate: Whenever you have clear-cut evidence that a drug works, you have an ethical obligation to immediately let the people who are in the placebo group know so that they can have access. And all of the other trials that are taking place now have a new standard of care.”
Fauci said the study that showed promise will now get the needed scrutiny.
“So, bottom line: You’re going to be hearing more details about this. This will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and will be peer-reviewed appropriately. But we think it’s really opening the door to the fact that we now have the capability of treating. And I can guarantee you, as more people, more companies, more investigators get involved, it’s going to get better and better,” he said.
Fauci noted that the new drug is not a vaccine to ward off the virus, but medicine to help those already infected. However, he was upbeat about multiple drug companies working on vaccines.
“We’re going to have a lot of shots on goal when it comes to vaccines,” he said.
Trump noted the significance of the drug.
“It’s a beginning; it means you build on it. I love that, as a building block. You know, just as a building block, I love that. But certainly, it’s a positive. It’s a very positive event from that standpoint,” he said.
Fauci was later asked when the drug might become broadly available.
“Well, right now, it’s happening that the [Food and Drug Administration], literally as we speak, is working with Gilead to figure out mechanisms to make this easily available to those who need it. With regard to getting to the market, it will obviously have to be approved by the FDA for licensure. And the FDA is very well aware that this is something that is very important, so I’m sure they’re going to be moving very expeditiously. But I can’t give you a date,” he said.
In response to a question from Trump, Fauci said there are “a lot of different permutations” in terms of the drug’s use.
“This is in hospitalized patients. And the endpoint was the time to discharge. So it’s unclear yet, right now, from this study, whether or not it would be better for early. We don’t know. It could be. But we only make statements about what we’ve proven. And the only thing that’s been proven now is in hospitalized patients,” he said.
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