The Infectious Disease Division at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is the first center in New England to enroll patients in an international study of the antiviral drug, Remdesivir, which aims to treat those with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“This drug stops the replication of other viruses, including other coronaviruses,” says Elizabeth Hohmann, MD, principal investigator of the MGH site and associate professor in Medicine and Infectious Disease at Harvard Medical School. “Quite simply, we hope it will kill the virus and make the disease better by getting rid of it. We do not know how well it works in humans, but we are hopeful”

The Remdesivir trial is a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial and there are four patients enrolled at MGH. Those who join have a 50 percent chance of getting the drug, and 50 percent chance of getting placebo. A total of 30 patients are enrolled nationally.

Hohmann says the hospital is hoping to enroll 30 to 40 more patients to the nationwide pool, which researchers hope will reach 440. There are 50 sites participating in this trial.

“There will be a data review after every 50 patients who enroll in the trial,” Hohmann says. “As a guess, we hope to have some useful information at six weeks. If there’s a big signal then they’ll refine the study and try to make it more available. Right now we’re just concentrating on getting people in.”

Hohmann added that there are other trials planned at MGH and other drugs directed at modulating immune response. Some trials in planning stages include the following:

  • Testing of inhaled nitric oxide to improve breathing in COVID-19 patients with severely damaged lungs; using gas to effectively 'kill' corona virus in the lungs in early infection
  • Using existing drugs like tocilizumab (Actemra) that ramp down the immune response to mitigate late lung damage in severe COVID-19 patients, and deciphering which patients would benefit most from the drug
  • Determining what part of the immune system is activated in the virus and when; using such information to ‘repurpose’ drugs to modulate or alter the trajectory and prevent severe disease; using this information to develop effective vaccines and quickly
  • Researchers also want to study biomarkers in those with varying degrees of illness to help doctors understand who might most benefit from specific standard medical interventions, and who can safely recover at home

“Research participation is vital to get more knowledge and advance therapeutics,” Hohmann says. “We’re intensely grateful to patients and families who have enrolled their loved ones in this study.”

The Remdesivir trial is being sponsored by the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with Gilead Pharmaceuticals.

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