Scientists urge caution using drug remdesivir to treat COVID-19

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While the world has its eyes on vaccines to stop the spread of coronavirus, therapeutics are still necessary to treat hospitalized patients.

One of these treatments, remdesivir, is the first and only antiviral agent of its kind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved so far for COVID-19.

But in a new study, researchers found that this antiviral drug is being used too indiscriminately when treating patients hospitalized with the virus.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Cincinnati.

The FDA approved remdesivir, marketed as Veklury, for emergency use authorization in May 2020 to treat COVID-19 and granted full approval for treatment in October 2020.

The World Health Organization came out in November 2020 with a conditional recommendation advising against its use entirely citing: “More research is needed, especially to provide higher certainty of the evidence for specific groups of patients.”

In the study, the team found that the drug permanently stops the activity of an enzyme called CES-2, which is found in the intestine, liver and kidney and is needed for the breakdown of many medications.

This enzyme normally breaks down and activates medicines in certain antivirals or inactivates other medicines such as certain anticoagulants.

On the other hand, this breakdown increases the toxicity of many more medications such as heart medicines and anticancer drugs.

An antiviral is a drug against viruses, and an anticoagulant is a drug that hinders the clotting of blood.

What further complicates the issue is that when delivered through an IV, remdesivir does not treat the virus unless the body has additional specific enzymes, which are not found in all patients.

It can also cause other antiviral drugs, such as those used for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, to not work properly.

Remdesivir is only administered through the veins in a hospital setting, with the FDA typically recommending a dose of once a day, for approximately 10 days.

The team says the intravenous injection of remdesivir can cause safety concerns because of high initial concentrations of the drug in the system. If physicians use it, they have to use it with caution.

Clearly, the treatment should be used for the right patients and in the proper dosages with care when used in combination with other medications.

One author of the study is Bingfang Yan, a pharmaceutical scientist.

The study is published in the journal Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology.

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