Duke University Hospital joins national study to test potential COVID-19 treatment

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Duke University Hospital is testing a potential treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The study is meant to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of remdesivir, an antiviral agent that was tested in humans with Ebola.

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Laboratory studies found remdesivir might work against SARS, a close cousin to the virus that causes COVID-19.

In a written statement, Dr. Cameron Wolfe, the study's principal investigator said, "Duke's participation in this national study creates an extra option for potential patients in our community who have serious complications from COVID-19. Currently, there are no approved therapies for this disease, so we are eager to contribute in any way to help find ways to fight this global pandemic."

The pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. developed remdesivir, an intravenous drug, and is supplying it for this study.

"We think it's the farthest along in terms of the development," Wolfe said. "It's been studied a lot in actually a whole range of other viruses, some that are quite similar to coronavirus such as SARs and MERs. It's not yet all the way through its testing, but we think it's getting close."

President Donald Trump touted the drug during a news conference March 19.

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Duke will begin enrolling patients immediately. To be eligible, patients must have significant symptoms such as difficulty breathing, using supplemental oxygen or needing mechanical ventilation.

"Usually protocols like this are complex and need many, many weeks to get sort of operationalized," Wolfe told ABC11. "I think because everyone recognizes this is so crucial for our patients who are coming in, we've been able to get this going in sort of six to eight days"

In terms of results, it depends on how the pandemic plays out.

"I'm pretty optimistic," Wolfe said. "I can't say we know exactly because this is not a fully approved drug yet for this. But this is probably the furthest along the way in terms of studies that have taken place so far."

Wolfe did stress that his optimism is tempered by the unknown, specifically potential side effects..

"I think we're all hopeful that this will come with good outcomes," he said. "But I would also put in a little caveat there that this is designed here to be safety assessments as well. Many a drug have made it to this phase in their development and in fact, when placed in the real world, have in fact had side effects profiles that were unfavorable."

The study is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and managed by the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.

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