As COVID-19 continues to circle the globe with scientists on its trail, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital are leading the search for an effective treatment.

Both hospitals are conducting clinical trials of remdesivir, an antiviral developed for other viruses that showed potential in treating the SARS and MERS viruses – considered the leading therapeutic candidates for COVID-19. It works by targeting how the virus replicates itself in order to spread.

MGH is the only New England hospital to participate in the country’s first clinical trial of an experimental treatment for the novel coronavirus, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, hospitalized patients will be enrolled at up to 50 nationwide sites and either be administered with remdesivir or a placebo intravenously once daily for 10 days. The study endpoint will be whether those patients who received remdesivir experienced reduction of symptoms and shorter hospitalization. MGH has already enrolled several patients in the study.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Libby Hohmann, MD, Chair and Physician Director, Partners HealthCare Human Research Committees, infectious disease physician at MGH and principal investigator for the NIH trial. “We absolutely appreciate the willingness of people to enroll. It’s not just helping them, should they get the drug and the drug is effective – that’s a lot of ifs – but it’s also helping us understand what’s worth pursuing and what’s worth giving the people who come after them.”

At the Brigham, two additional trials launched by Gilead, the drug’s developer, will investigate whether it alleviates symptoms in patients with moderate to severe illness over five- and ten-day courses. Those trials will also be randomized, but not placebo controlled, and will include 1,000 patients at sites worldwide. Those patients, noted Francisco Marty, MD, Brigham physician and study co-investigator, will likely be recruited at an unsettlingly rapid clip. “At the rate of the epidemic, we may be done in a month or two,” said Dr. Marty. “If we do a good job, then in a month or two we should know if this works and can get it to the FDA for approval, and if it doesn’t work move to something else that may be more promising by then.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

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