Apr 24, 2020 - Health

Fragments of data about a coronavirus drug don't tell us much

We still don't know the true effectiveness of remdesivir. Photo: Ulrich Perrey/AFP via Getty Images

Depending on the study, remdesivir is either a clinical failure or a godsend for treating the novel coronavirus.

The big picture: The grim reality of the coronavirus pandemic has the world itching to know which experimental treatments actually work, but we're not necessarily getting any smarter from these incremental drips of incomplete information.

Driving the news: Remdesivir — an antiviral drug that some experts have seen as a promising coronavirus treatment — "was not associated with clinical or virological benefits" for coronavirus patients, according to a summary of a clinical trial in China, viewed by STAT and the Financial Times.

Between the lines: The truth is, we still don't really know how effective the drug is in fighting this virus.

  • The Chinese trial has a randomized control group, so it is by far the most reliable study. However, the trial has not gone through peer review, and Gilead said the results were "inconclusive" because the trial had to be terminated early.
  • The University of Chicago study and a Gilead-sponsored compassionate use study, which prompted rosier views of the drug, are riddled with flaws that make them hard to rely on. The most obvious drawback in both is the lack of a control group.

The bottom line: Science is slow for a reason, and the deluge of poorly designed trials and early drafts of studies is sowing confusion instead of creating clarity.

  • "The world is, unfortunately, getting a crash course in the value of evidence-based medicine vs. anecdote," veteran pharmaceutical analyst Brian Skorney tweeted.

What's next: A more rigorous report from Gilead's Chinese trial is expected at the end of this month, and data from other trials is expected in late May. Don't jump to any firm conclusions before that happens.

Go deeper: The high stakes of low scientific standards

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Fauci: Data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus

Anthony Fauci told CNN Wednesday that the scientific data "is really quite evident now about the lack of efficacy" of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment.

Driving the news: The comments came in response to news that France on Wednesday banned the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus, after a large retrospective study in The Lancet found an increased risk of heart problems and death among coronavirus patients who took the anti-malarial drug.

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

About 40.7 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began, including 2.1 million more claims filed from last week.

Why it matters: Even as states reopen their economies, Americans are still seeking relief. Revised data out Thursday also showed U.S. economy shrunk by an annualized 5% in the first quarter — worse than the initially estimate of 4.8%.

New research suggests coronavirus spread began in U.S. in mid-February

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New research suggests that the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state was likely started by someone who came to the U.S. in mid-February, not by the first confirmed infection in the country, STAT reports.

Why it matters: The research indicates that the U.S. could have been more successful in mitigating community spread of the virus had it acted sooner.