Several months ago, an FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19 seemed unlikely. We didn’t see it coming in our April blog post. Cases were spreading fast across the country, snake oil salesmen were pushing colloidal silver as a cure-all, and researchers were still weighing the pros and cons of hydroxycholorine and various antivirals. But to our surprise, one of those antivirals has since been embraced as the first treatment for COVID-19. Please welcome remdesivir, also known as Veklury.
The Story of Veklury
First investigated in 2009 as a possible treatment for hepatitis C and respiratory syncytial virus, remdesivir was later used as a treatment for Ebola in 2014. In the following years, research focused on whether it could be used to treat SARS and MERS, two known coronaviruses. When the novel coronavirus began to spread across the globe in early 2020, remdesivir stood out as a possible treatment.
Right away, Gilead, the manufacturer of remdesivir, sprang into action. Gilead provided remdesivir to researchers all over the world to begin testing its ability to treat COVID-19. By February the manufacturer had begun its own clinical trials and increased production of the drug. Doctors were able to request remdesivir for COVID-19 patients outside of trials (children under 18 and pregnant women) through the compassionate use rule. By March, Gilead was receiving hundreds of requests every day.
Now branded Veklury, remdesivir was approved by the FDA on October 22. A series of randomized, controlled trials showed remdesivir shortened the recovery time of patients infected with COVID-19 and was safe for patients. However, the FDA and other regulators will continue to monitor Veklury use for the time being.
What is Veklury
Veklury is an antiviral and a prodrug, or a medication that is inactive until metabolized by cells. While the details of exactly how it works are still a little fuzzy, it is believed that Veklury blocks an enzyme that coronaviruses use to replicate.
Veklury is administered through an IV. Patients who don’t need ventilation are treated for five days; patients on ventilators or other oxygen support systems are treated for ten days.
Who can use Veklury
If you have a mild case of COVID-19, Veklury is not for you. The FDA has approved Veklury for COVID-19 cases that require hospitalization in patients over twelve years of age and weighing approximately 90 pounds. That is, if you’re not in the hospital or in a healthcare setting that can provide the same kind of care you would receive in a hospital, then Veklury is not an option.
Part of this is due to the method of administration. Most patients aren’t capable of setting up an IV and managing an infusion at home. But side effects are another reason Veklury can only be administered in hospital settings. Veklury can cause allergic reactions like changes in blood pressure and heart rate, low blood oxygen level, fever, shortness of breath, wheezing, swelling of the lips or around the eyes, and so on. Veklury can also cause liver injury, so patients need to be monitored closely.
Some argue that the Veklury trials did not prove its efficacy. In fact, a World Health Organization trial showed Veklury had “little or no effect” on patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Other experts contend that the original clinical trials had mixed results and the FDA’s subsequent approval was surprising. Nevertheless, Veklury has become the official treatment for COVID-19 and seems to contribute to fewer deaths from the virus, if nothing else.
We hope other COVID-19 treatments will arise in the coming year. The COVID-19 vaccine is at the top of everyone’s minds as well, and at least one candidate is making progress. But the approval of Veklury seems like a valuable step in the right direction.
Nevertheless, stay vigilant. Ask questions. No matter what you read about prospective therapies or magical internet cures, follow the advice of medical professionals. And if your doctor does end up prescribing you a medication – whether it’s for COVID-19, an ear infection, or high blood pressure – ScriptDrop can deliver it to your home. We’re here to help you.