In a new study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health reported that the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir (also known as GS-5734) successfully prevented rhesus monkeys infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus (MERS-CoV) from becoming ill from this virus infection. Giving remdesivir before infection can prevent them from getting sick, while giving this drug after they are infected can improve their condition. The results were published online February 13, 2020 in the journal PNAS, entitled "Prophylactic and therapeutic remdesivir (GS-5734) treatment in the rhesus macaque model of MERS-CoV infection".
MERS-CoV is closely related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, also known as COVID-19, previously known as 2019-nCoV). Since the first case of 2019-nCoV infection was detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019, this virus has triggered a large-scale epidemic.
Remdesivir has previously been shown to protect animals from multiple viruses in laboratory experiments. Experiments have confirmed that the drug is effective in treating monkeys infected with Ebola virus and Nipah virus. It has also been studied in humans for the treatment of Ebola virus disease.
This new study involved three groups of monkeys: monkeys that were administered remdesivir 24 hours before infection with MERS-CoV; monkeys that were administered remdesivir 12 hours after infection (close to the peak time of MERS-CoV replication in these monkeys); and monkeys that were not administered remdesivir (as a control group).
The researchers observed the monkeys for six days. All control monkeys showed signs of respiratory disease. The monkeys that were given remdesivir before infection were in good health: they had no signs of respiratory disease, had markedly decreased levels of viral replication in the lungs, and had no lung damage compared with control monkeys. Monkeys that were given remdesivir after infection performed much better than control monkeys: the severity of the disease was lower than control monkeys, their lung virus levels were lower than control monkeys, and their lung damage was also milder.
These researchers point out that these promising findings support the use of remdesivir for clinical trials against MERS-CoV and 2019-nCoV. In China, several clinical trials are ongoing to treat patients with 2019-nCoV using remdesivir.
Gilead Sciences Inc. Developed the remdesivir and participated in this study.
In 2012, MERS-CoV emerged in Saudi Arabia. By December 2019, the World Health Organization had identified 2499 MERS-CoV cases and 861 deaths. Given that about one third of MERS-CoV cases are transmitted by infected individuals treated at health facilities, these researchers propose that remdesivir may be effective in protecting other patients, patient contacts, and health care workers from disease. They also noted that if this medication is taken shortly after the onset of symptoms, then it may help patients with a confirmed diagnosis of MERS-CoV or 2019-nCoV.