Growing number of studies say remdesivir shows promise in treating COVID-19

A California-based biotech company says its experimental drug remdesivir has proven effective against the new coronavirus in a major U.S. government study that put it to a strict test.

Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir would be the first treatment to pass such a test against the virus, which has killed more than 218,000 people since it emerged late last year. Having a treatment could have a profound effect on the global pandemic, especially because health officials say any vaccine is likely a year or more away.

The study, run by the National Institutes of Health, tested remdesivir versus usual care in about 800 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world. The main result is how long it takes patients to recover.

Drugs like remdesivir have been the subject of trials for multiple coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, as well as feline coronavirus, known as FIP. 

Remdesivir is what's known as a prodrug, according to Dr. Niels Pendersen, who researches treatments for feline coronavirus. He explained to FOX 13's Dr. Joette Giovinco that the biologically active component of remdesivir interacts with infected cells, making them unable to replicate in the body. 

Dr. Pendersen explained that remdesivir is altered by infected cells, adding phosphate groups to the cells and stops the production of viral RNA. 

MORE: Feline coronavirus treatment could stop spread of COVID-19 in humans, doctor says

The Associated Press reports California-based company Gilead Science Inc. developed the drug and realized it could have antiviral properties against types of coronaviruses in 2016. However, scientists in China have tried to patent the drug, saying they discovered it could be effective against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. 

Despite the conflict, Gilead was able to begin human trials in the United States for remdesivir.

PREVIOUS: Clinical trials on new antiviral drug, plasma begin at Sarasota Memorial Hospital; recovered donors needed

The number of trials has steadily increased, with many showing some positive results in treating the disease.

Earlier this month, Sarasota Memorial Hospital became one of the first medical centers in the United States to begin clinical trials for remdesivir. The anti-viral drug has already been in testing in China and other parts of the world for months. SMH was only allowing the most severe patients to participate in the trial. 

The Associated Press previously reported on a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine on patients who had been treated with remdesivir. More than half of a group of severely ill coronavirus patients reportedly improved after receiving the antiviral drug, although there was no comparison group at the time.

Study: Remdesivir prevented disease progression in monkeys with COVID-19

Monkeys infected with COVID-19 that were treated with remdesivir were shown to be in “significantly better health” than those who were untreated, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Monkeys in the treated group also had less damage caused to their lungs by COVID-19 than the non-treated group.

RELATED: Stocks surge as Gilead coronavirus drug eclipses GDP drop

Meanwhile, shares of Gilead Sciences has jumped more than 14% and continues to grow. However, remdesivir is not officially approved anywhere in the world for any use.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map

The Associated Press contributed to this report.