Israel to accept COVID-19 drug remdesivir from US company

Government backs Health Ministry in authorizing Gilead Sciences’ donation of medicine

Rubber stoppers are placed onto filled vials of the remdesivir at a Gilead manufacturing site in the US, in March 2020. (Gilead Sciences via AP)
Rubber stoppers are placed onto filled vials of the remdesivir at a Gilead manufacturing site in the US, in March 2020. (Gilead Sciences via AP)

The government has approved the Health Ministry’s acceptance of stocks of coronavirus drug remdesivir from California-based biotech company Gilead Sciences.

It was not clear how many doses Israel will be receiving.

Remdesivir is among the only treatments shown in a rigorous experiment to help fight the coronavirus. A large study led by the National Institutes of Health recently found it could shorten average recovery time from 15 days to 11 days in hospitalized patients with severe disease symptoms. One study in April, however, said it had “no clinical benefit.”

The drug is given through an IV and is designed to interfere with an enzyme the virus uses to copy its genetic material. It’s approved for treating COVID-19 in Israel and is authorized for emergency use in the United States for certain patients.

In May, Asher Shalmon, the Health Ministry’s director of international relations, told The Times of Israel that Israel’s strong relationship with the California-based Gilead put the country in a good position to ensure supply.

“We have a long-lasting relationship with the company, they have strong representation here, and this helps in making sure it is available here,” he said.

Doctors at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center treat a patient in the coronavirus unit, on May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israeli hospitals were part of two studies into remdesivir’s effectiveness. The drug helped save the country’s first seriously ill patient, an East Jerusalem bus driver in his 30s, according to the Health Ministry.

Israel is also stockpiling the drug hydroxychloroquine, though studies have shown it to be dangerous when given to COVID-19 patients. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration saidhydroxychloroquine and the drug chloroquine are unlikely to be effective in treating the coronavirus. Citing reports of heart complications, the FDA said the drugs’ unproven benefits “do not outweigh the known and potential risks.”

In a separate announcement on Monday, the FDA also warned doctors against prescribing the drugs in combination with remdesivir, the lone drug currently shown to help patients with COVID-19. The FDA said the anti-malaria drugs can reduce the effectiveness of remdesivir, which FDA cleared for emergency use in May.

On Tuesday, a British trial encouraged the use of the drug dexamethasone to treat serious COVID-19 cases.

Researchers led by a team from the University of Oxford administered the widely available drug to more than 2,000 severely ill COVID-19 patients. Among those who could only breathe with the help of a ventilator, dexamethasone reduced deaths by 35 percent, and by one-fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only, according to preliminary results.

Dexamethasone is an anti-inflammatory, normally used to treat a range of allergic reactions as well as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. The researchers touted their trial results as a “major breakthrough.”

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