The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved last Friday the emergency use of a new drug – remdesivir – that appeared to have shortened the recovery time of COVID-19 patients from 15 to 11 days on average.
The study is ongoing and not yet large enough and the scientists are not ready to say the drug is a cure. Remdesivir works by blocking an enzyme that the virus uses to copy its genetic material. “I don’t think this is a cure yet, but I think it is starting to point us in the right direction,” said a critical care specialist in New York’s North Shore University Hospital where the drug was tested.
The FDA authorized the drug under its emergency powers, to speed up the availability of other experimental drugs now being developed and tested in the US, which is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has now infected over 3.4 million people all over the world, over 235,000 fatally, with the US accounting for over 1.1 million cases and over 65,000 deaths.
Other drugs are now being developed in several other countries. In the Phiippines, our doctors at the Philippine General Hospital are using blood plasma donated by recovered victims which, injected into new victims, stimulates the development of antibodies to fight the virus.
Another front in the fight against COVID-19 is the search for a vaccine. A vaccine would stimulate a healthy person to develop anti-bodies to fight the virus in case of an infection. Drugs like remdesivir are needed to cure the millions who are now ill; vaccines will protect the billions yet free of the virus.
There is fear in the US that there may be second wave of infections late this year and even a third wave. This is what happened in the Spanish flu pandemic that killed 20 to 50 million people around the world – including over 500,000 Americans – over a period of two years starting in 1918.
Reports from that era spoke of schools, shops, and restaurants being closed, public transportation being stopped, bans on public gatherings, social distancing, mandatory use of face masks – the very same measures now being enforced in the US and other countries in today’s COVID-19 pandemic.
In late 1918, new cases of Spanish flu dropped abruptly. One theory was that the virus had mutated rapidly into a less lethal strain. Deaths from Spanish flu soon became less important to the public mind than deaths from the World War I of 1914-18.
Today’s COVID-19 virus has been spreading around the world since January this year, but some countries have started easing restrictions that have kept residents in their homes. We hope these moves are being taken with due concern for the situation of viral infections in the field.
A great deal of hope now lies with continuing efforts of scientists to discover cures and vaccines for COVID-19. Remdesivir is the first of the drugs now being used in the US. We expect many others to be ready very soon and they should help stop the tide of COVID-19 deaths that continues to sweep the globe.