VCU doctor leading clinical trial on drug to treat COVID-19 encouraged by initial results

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — VCU Health is in the middle of conducting clinical trials for an experimental drug that could possibly treat COVID-19. Dr. Arun Sanyal, the doctor leading the trials, told 8News Tuesday that results are encouraging and it’s about improving how a patient feels, functions and survives.

Remdesivir, a drug used to experimentally treat Ebola in 2014, is now being studied at VCU Medical Center to possibly treat the novel coronavirus. VCU Health is one of the several medical facilities around the world testing the drug.

“This drug directly attacks the virus and keeps it from multiplying,” Dr. Sanyal said.

Sanyal, the principal investigator of VCU’s clinical trials, said the trial is in phase three, meaning the drug is now being administered to sick patients with their consent.

“When you have a very ill population that are acutely ill for which there’s no treatment, there’s hope and then there’s reality and what we’re trying to do is bridge,” he explained.

The drug is only being tested on patients who have tested positive for coronavirus and in the hospital with documented fever and pneumonia. Two trials are now underway.

“One trial focuses on people who are able to maintain their oxygen without the need for extra oxygen and the other trial is for those who are more severely affected who we have to administer extra oxygen,” Sanyal told 8News.

New data is collected and analyzed each day, giving professionals the chance to learn more. Sanyal says COVID-19 causes the body’s immune system to attack vital lung cells that the virus has latched onto, striking in three phases.

“You have the upper respiratory phase, then the pneumonia phase, and then in some people there is a cardiac phase,” Sanyal explained.

The goal is to safely stop its progression and lower the death rate. If trials are successful, the drug will still have to go through regulatory agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, for final approval. Sanyal says the drug could be widely available in the next three to four months.


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