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Breakthrough treatment innovated at UNC proves effective against COVID-19

A look at the global race to find a safe and effective vaccine for coronavirus.
A look at the global race to find a safe and effective vaccine for coronavirus.
Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 8:27 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2020 at 8:32 PM EDT
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN/AP) - The federal coronavirus task force announced Wednesday positive clinical trial results for remdesivir, a treatment that originated in labs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Officials at UNC say the treatment diminished the time to recovery from COVID-19. Animal testing at UNC Gillings School of Public Health set the stage for clinical trials to begin as the virus spread across the globe.

“This is a game changer for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 and provides hope to many infected,” says Ralph Baric, an epidemiologist in the UNC Gillings School of Public Health that led lab testing of the broad-spectrum antiviral drug.

Gilead Sciences’s remdesivir would be the first treatment to pass such a test against the virus, which has killed more than 218,000 people since it emerged late last year. Having a treatment could have a profound effect on the global pandemic, especially because health officials say any vaccine is likely a year or more away.

In 2014, the UNC lab partnered with Gilead Sciences. Their goal was testing the company’s antiviral drugs to curb emerging viral diseases, according to Tim Sheahan, a virologist in Baric’s lab.

The study, run by the National Institutes of Health, tested remdesivir versus usual care in about 800 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world. The main result is how long it takes patients to recover.

Gilead gave no details on results Wednesday, but said an announcement is expected soon. NIH officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Remdesivir is given through an IV and is designed to interfere with an enzyme that reproduces viral genetic material. In animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness. But it is not yet approved anywhere in the world for any use.

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