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VCU Begins Clinical Trials of New Anti-Viral for Coronavirus

Aerial footage of Richmond skyline
VCU Health Aerial (Photo: Allen Jones/VCU)

VCU Health is beginning clinical trials of a potential, experimental drug treatment for COVID-19.
The drug is Remdesivir, and was developed to treat Ebola. VPM’s Charles Fishburne
talked with Dr. Arun Sanyal, a liver specialist and gastroenterologist leading the trial, who started by describing how the drug works.

SANYAL: It basically is an antiviral, so it reduces the ability of the virus to replicate. And so when the virus stops replicating that allows the body's normal healing mechanisms to kick in and try to heal the patient.

Man in lab coat
Dr. Arun Sanyal (Photo: K. Schindler)

FISHBURNE: Now, the president says he thinks it might be a game changer. Dr. Fauci says there isn't enough evidence, what do you think?

SANYAL: I certainly would align with Dr. Fauci on this. It is extremely hopeful that this drug will work, but that hope and evidence are not necessarily the same thing. And so it is extremely important for us to generate real evidence on the efficacy so that that hope can be translated into reality.

FISHBURNE: And the great advantage of this drug is that it exists and I assume it could be put into production quickly if it proved to be useful and safe?

SANYAL: That is correct. So the earlier we can enroll in these trials and generate the evidence about its efficacy and safety, the earlier the FDA can assess whether this drug is good enough to be approved. And if it is, then that's earlier this drug becomes available to people with the disease.

FISHBURN: Are we talking about soon enough to deal with this particular wave of COVID-19, two weeks, two months, this year?

SANYAL: Hopefully, certainly within this year, but you know, I don't speak... it would be inappropriate for me to provide a timeline because I have no direct way of really knowing what that timeline would look like. But I would suspect more in terms of months rather than weeks.

FISHBURNE: Except now we have these clinical trials. And it is entirely possible if it works. You could save a life in the next week or the next month.

SANYAL: Absolutely. Or tomorrow, you know, because the access to the trial, we do provide potentially life saving therapy for our patients. But with the caveat, that the ability of the drug to save the life is not established with certainty. And the point of doing it in a trial setting is to generate the evidence that will give us that certainty when the next patient comes along.

FISHBURNE: If there is a patient or a doctor or a family that wants to get their family member enrolled in this clinical trial, where do they go?

SANYAL:  We have established a portal for healthcare providers by which they can reach us and provide sort of the critical information that we need to determine whether the patient meets the criteria for the trial and is likely to benefit from the trial and whether this could be something that would help the patient with that information. In there, we will then contact the physician back. For patients and their families, we request that they ask their primary care physician or whoever's taking care of them to contact us via the portal. Because we're asking for technical information on the portal, we really request that this come to the healthcare provider rather than from the patient himself.