Apr 30, 2020 - Health

Why Gilead's coronavirus drug is not a "silver bullet"

Two vials of remdesivir sit on a table.
The release of remdesivir data has been a mess. Photo: Ulrich Perrey/AFP via Getty Images

If you feel like you're suffering whiplash from the new, conflicting study data on Gilead Sciences' experimental coronavirus drug, remdesivir, you're not alone.

The big picture: Remdesivir could provide some help and lay the groundwork for more research, but this drug on its own does not appear to be any kind of "cure" for the novel coronavirus.

What's happening: Remdesivir helped coronavirus patients get out of the hospital modestly quicker, based on early reads of an important and rigorously designed trial run by the National Institutes of Health.

  • That could be encouraging for those who get sick.

Yes, but: Analysts and experts were cautious about drawing too many conclusions without the full data from NIH — especially considering the primary outcome was changed mid-trial, and a separate randomized trial concluded remdesivir does little, if anything, to combat the virus.

  • "Remdesivir is a real drug for COVID ... but again, not a silver bullet," Umer Raffat, a pharmaceutical analyst at Evercore ISI, wrote to investors on Wednesday.
  • And because the drug has limited efficacy and likely works best before the infection gets too serious, "its availability is not going to move the needle on social distancing relaxation," tweeted Peter Bach, a physician and drug researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

The bottom line: This near-constant back-and-forth over remdesivir reinforces how strong the science and data need to be for any treatment, or for the world's best hope: a vaccine.

Go deeper: The high stakes of low scientific standards

Go deeper