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Gilead Assesses Ebola Drug as Possible Coronavirus Treatment (1)

Jan. 23, 2020, 6:35 PMUpdated: Jan. 23, 2020, 7:06 PM

Gilead Sciences Inc. will see whether an experimental Ebola treatment can combat infections of the new SARS-like coronavirus that sprung out of central China in the last month.

The Foster City, Calif.-based biotechnology company “is in active discussions with researchers and clinicians in the United States and China regarding the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and the potential use of remdesivir as an investigational treatment,” the company confirmed in a Thursday email to Bloomberg Law. “Plans for next steps, including engagement with regulatory authorities, are ongoing.”

Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral drug that grew out of a collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in 2014. It works by blocking a key enzyme the virus needs for replication, the company explained in a statement. The National Institutes of Health in August dropped remdesivir and ZMapp from a clinical trial testing four potential Ebola treatments amid the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The agency stopped the study early after it found other treatments were much more effective at preventing death.

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said in a recent interview the agency is looking into whether remdesivir can be used as a therapeutic for the latest coronavirus. He reiterated that in a Thursday viewpoint in the Journal of the American Medical Association, noting that remdesivir along with HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir “have shown promise” in animal models for treating Middle East Repertory virus, which is in the same family of diseases as the new coronavirus. 

Remdesivir is not yet licensed or approved anywhere globally. While it is in development, Gilead is committed to providing the drug where appropriate for compassionate use, as well as for use in controlled clinical trials, to support effective and timely responses to viral outbreaks worldwide, such as Ebola, other filoviruses, and viral pathogens.

Xinhua News Agency, China’s state run press agency, is reporting nearly 600 cases of pneumonia linked to the new strain of coronavirus in an outbreak that began last month in Wuhan City in China. That’s almost double the number of cases the World Health Organization had reported on Jan. 21. The CDC announced Wednesday the first case has made its way onto U.S. soil.

Other companies are also pursuing possible treatments, including Vir Biotechnology, which announced Wednesday it’s evaluating whether monoclonal antibodies—proteins made in the laboratories that can be used to neutralize pathogens—it previously developed can be used against the coronavirus strain coming out of Wuhan. Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Moderna, Inc. also announced contracts this week on work to develop a vaccine.

—With assistance from Catherine Larkin of Bloomberg News in Chicago.

(Updated to with research happening at other biotech companies in the seventh paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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