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Clinical Trial Of Experimental COVID-19 Drug Now Underway At UIHC

Univeristy of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics sign
Jon Farvel / Flickr
A clinical trial of the experimental drug remdesivir is now underway at the UIHC for qualifying COVID-19 patients.

A clinical trial is now underway at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to test an experimental drug to treat COVID-19. Some previous laboratory tests of the anti-viral drug remdesivir have been promising, but its safety and efficacy in clinical settings is still unproven.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently no FDA-approved treatments specifically for the disease caused by the highly contagious new coronavirus, which is rapidly spreading around the world. Standard care for the illness includes infection prevention and control, and supportive care like oxygen and ventilation.

Due to the relative lack of treatment options, physicians and researchers at the UIHC jumped at the opportunity to be involved in a clinical trial of the drug remdesivir, sponsored by the manufacturer of the pharmaceutical, Gilead.

As of this week, hospitalized patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 can qualify for the trial, if they don’t have certain liver or kidney issues and are above the age of 12, or have parental consent if they are a minor.

The drug has shown some promising results in lab settings and in animal tests, according to Dilek Ince, a clinical associate professor of Infectious Diseases at the UIHC.

“In actual lab trials, in lab studies it’s shown to be very potent, very effective against multiple coronaviruses, including…SARS-coronavirus-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” Dilek said.

One of their major questions is usually, 'is it really going to help me?' And that's hard to know, right? So that's why we tell them, 'well under lab conditions it seems like this drug should help you, but that's why we need the clinical trials'. - Dr. Dilek Ince, UIHC

The drug was considered for Ebola treatments during the outbreak of that virus, but was deemed not effective enough. Dilek said the drug hasn’t been tested in humans until now.

“So that’s the reason that we really need these human studies to see if it’s going to be effective in the clinical trials,” she added.”

Dilek says university physicians and researchers are proactively asking patients and their caregivers if they’re interested in participating in the study. With a relative lack of established treatment options and some apprehension about their overall diagnosis, Dilek said patients have been very open to the experimental drug.

“They have been actually very welcoming of this opportunity to enroll in the trial,” she said, but noted that patients, understandably, have questions.

“One of their major questions is usually, 'is it really going to help me'? And that’s hard to know, right? So that’s why we tell them, 'well under lab conditions it seems like this drug should help you, but that’s why we need the clinical trials',” she added. “Because in the real world we do not know if it’s really going to help.”

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, physicians and patients around the world are testing remdesivir.

The UIHC is also pursuing another experimental treatment called convalescent plasma, which is essentially a transfusion of blood plasma from a patient who has recovered from COVID-19 to a patient still suffering from the disease, in the hopes that the antibodies of one patient can help fight infection in another. Dilek said the hospital is working on making plasma treatments available.

“UIHC is looking into all possibilities,” Dilek said.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter