Tacoma hospital taking part in promising coronavirus treatment

VIDEO: Remdesivir being tested on coronavirus patients in South Sound

TACOMA, Wash. — Remdesivir is a drug first developed to treat the Ebola virus, but wasn't effective. The coronavirus may be a different story.

Early indicators suggest the broad spectrum antiviral drug may help prevent the virus from replicating inside the body slowing COVID-19, the sickness it causes.

“It basically gets into the cell along with the virus and prevents its development or its reproduction in many ways,” said Dr. Vinay Molhatra, who is taking part in a study of remdesivir at Tacoma General Hospital.

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Only a few hospitals nationally have access to remdesivir to study its effectiveness. According to MultiCare Health Systems, the company operating Tacoma General Hospital, “Gilead Sciences, the biopharmaceutical company working to develop medicines for COVID-19,selected MultiCare due to MultiCare’s established Institute for Research and Innovation headquartered in Tacoma.”

Molhatra said tests are being fast-tracked without placebo comparisons because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus and the need for a treatment.

“Is this the magic bullet? No, it’s not. There are other agents which are being looked at, but right now this has promise and a hope,” Molhatra said.

Remdesivir has been touted as promising by people such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Donald Trump.

“That’s been the hot thing also in the papers and in the media for the last little while,” Trump said last week.

During an Oval Office visit Gilead Sciences Chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day said getting remdesivir to patients was a priority, adding the company’s entire supply of remdesivir was being donated to the federal government to be shipped to hospitals that need it.

“There are patients out there that can benefit from this medicine today that are hospitalized and we don’t want any time to waste,” O’Day said.

Tacoma General is experimenting with remdesivir treatment in COVID-19 patients before their illness becomes potentially life-threatening unlike some early studies. One problem researchers are running into, Molhatra said, is patients requesting other drugs they’ve heard about on social media instead of remdesivir.

“So we get questions on hydroxychloroquine, choloroquine, vitamin C, zinc,” Molhatra said.