(CBS/CNN) — The US Food and Drug Administration has approved remdesivir for the treatment of coronavirus infection, the drug’s maker, Gilead Sciences, said Thursday.
It is the first drug to be approved for treating COVID-19. The drug, sold under the brand name Veklury, has been used under emergency use authorization since May.
The antiviral has shown, at best, a modest benefit for coronavirus patients. But there is little else available.
“In the United States, Veklury is indicated for adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older and weighing at least 40 kg) for the treatment of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization,” the company said in a statement.
“Veklury should only be administered in a hospital or in a healthcare setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care.”
Earlier this month, a World Health Organization-sponsored global study found remdesivir did not help patients survive or even recover faster, but a US study found the infused drug shortened recovery time for some patients by about a third.
“The FDA uses data submitted by a drug’s maker when it’s considering approval. Gilead submitted a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed the drug shortened the course of illness from an average of 15 days to about 11 days in hospitalized patients.
The FDA also considered two other studies. One showed a slight benefit of the drug and another showed the drug did not make much difference.
Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), said he was not impressed by remdesivir. “It’s important to note that even the data that we saw in the United States from that drug show that the benefit was modest,” Bright told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday.
“It wasn’t a home run. It wasn’t a remarkable improvement in terms of mortality, or even the lengthening or shortening of the length of hospital stay, but it did show some marginal benefit,” Bright said.
“Today’s approval is supported by data from multiple clinical trials that the agency has rigorously assessed and represents an important scientific milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement.
“As part of the FDA’s Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program, the agency will to continue to help move new medical products to patients as soon as possible, while at the same time determining whether they are effective and if their benefits outweigh their risks.”
Dr. Paul Sax, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told WBZ-TV that the drug can be effective, but it has to be administered at a specific time.
“What is most important for people to understand is, yes, remdesivir does work, but it doesn’t work in everyone. The best information we have about it is that people who are hospitalized, who are requiring oxygen, have a shorter time to recover than people who don’t get remdesivir,” said Dr. Sax. “And so what we’ve been thinking is that it is probably best, in fact I’d emphasize this, for people who are hospitalized to start on this medication as soon as possible. Because after a certain period of time, it looks like remdesivir no longer works.”
Dr. Sax also says the benefit of getting approval for remdesivir from the FDA is it will be more readily available for hospitals.
“Now that it is FDA approved, it will be much more broadly available, and also be available in a more easily administered way. Right now, to give the drug, you have to fill out special forms and also have certain follow up,” said Dr. Sax. “So, overall, this is good news, because it should increase the access for patients who have COVID-19 to the drug. And as I have emphasized, try to get it to people earlier rather than later.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN’s Maggie Fox contributed to this report.)