When preliminary results recently leaked from a University of Chicago study of the anti-viral remdesivir, the data suggested the drug was effective in treating COVID-19 patients. But as I warned at the time, it was "way too premature to pop champagne corks just yet."
Sure enough: The biomedical website STAT just spotted an abstract that had been accidentally posted on a World Health Organization website. The document, which has since been taken down, summarizes a Chinese study of the same drug—and this time, the news is not good.
In this randomized controlled trial, the researchers recruited 237 hospitalized COVID-19 patients; 158 were treated with remdesivir, and 79 received a placebo. (The study initially aimed to enroll 463 patients, but the researchers could not find enough recruits.) The abstract reports that "remdesivir use was not associated with a difference in time to clinical improvement and mortality at 28 days." In fact, while it's not a statistically significant difference, the mortality rate for patients treated with remdesivir was slightly higher than the rate in the placebo cohort—13.9 percent rather than 12.8 percent.
The abstract also says that "remdesivir was not associated with clinical or virological benefits, negativity." This last phrase may mean that the researchers could detect no significant difference between the two groups in the rate of clearance of the virus.
Andrew Hill, a senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, told STAT: "If there is no benefit to remdesivir in a study this size, this suggests that the overall benefit of remdesivir in this population with advanced infection is likely to be small in the larger Gilead trial."
Amy Flood, a spokesperson for the drug manufacturer Gilead, told STAT that the company believes "the post included inappropriate characterization of the study." Flood added, "Trends in the data suggest a potential benefit for remdesivir, particularly among patients treated early in disease."
We'll learn more about whether that's true when the full study is published. In the meantime, keep the champagne in the fridge.