‘Everyone’s excited about it’: Bryan experts weigh in on new drug, other COVID-19 treatments

Studies about a new drug have ignited excitement about its potential use to treat COVID-19.
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Studies about a new drug have ignited excitement about its potential use to treat COVID-19.

Two small studies released Wednesday about remdesivir, which is in clinical trial at UNMC in Omaha, showed it had positive results. One of them, done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found patients who took the drug recovered about four days faster than those who didn’t. It also found those who took the drug were about 3% less likely to die.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the drug could set a new standard of care for those who test positive for the virus.

But health experts in Lincoln urged patience Thursday, as the efficacy and availability are still big question marks.

Dr. Bill Johnson, a Bryan Health pulmonologist, said remdesivir seems promising but it’s not being used by Bryan at this time.

“Yeah, everyone’s excited about it,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Remdesivir is not a new drug. It has been used to treat other disease – including Ebola – and is currently available for compassionate use in children and pregnant women.

Johnson said widespread availability of any potential treatment will be a challenge. He says the U.S. healthcare system is “not set up” to handle a single disease that affects a large number of people all at once like COVID-19. He says having a solid scientific basis for the drugs doctors give patients is critical.

“That’s something that we really need to have and only time will give us that,” he said.

Bryan Health has used other treatment options on patients in the past.

One of them, an anti malarial drug called hydroxichloriquine, was used on a handful of patients. Johnson says hydroxichloriquine initially seemed to have promise, but says he’d lean toward using remdesivr if given the option between the two.

Bryan Health is also participating in an expanded access program for using convalescent plasma treatment. The treatment involves taking plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus and using it to treat others. It has been used for decades as a way to combat other diseases, including Ebola.

Dr. Aina Silenieks, a Bryan Health pathologist, said the treatment has started to gain momentum after it was noted in some Chinese studies as being safe and potentially beneficial for COVID-19 patients.

The treatment is being regulated as an investigatory product, and is not yet FDA-approved, Silenieks said. Bryan has used the treatment on at least three patients.

Dr. Johnson says Bryan is closely monitoring remdesivr. If proven to be effective, he says it could be an option in Lincoln.

“As times change and FDA rules change and the company makes the drug more available, yes, we may turn to that.”


Categories: Coronavirus, Health, News