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Researchers Are Looking Into Alternatives To Remdesivir In The Coronavirus Treatment


There is no cure for COVID-19. There is one drug scientifically shown to help a bit, but researchers are hunting for better ones. And now they are testing some of those in people. NPR's science correspondent Joe Palca is here to tell us more about where we stand with COVID-19 treatments.

Hey, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I'm going to let you start with the one drug that I mentioned that's shown to help a little bit.

PALCA: Yeah. It's called remdesivir. It does show - they have shown that it shortens a stay in the hospital from 15 days to 11 days, but it doesn't reduce mortality. And I know that scientists and patients, for that matter, would like to have something better. This is good, but it's still not what you'd call a cure. So they're looking for better things.

KELLY: So in terms of things that are actually far enough along that they might actually show up at hospitals soon, what are we looking at?

PALCA: Well, Actually, some of these are in hospitals, some as being tested there and some under what's called compassionate use or emergency use. One is called convalescent plasma. This is plasma that's taken from patients who have gotten sick with COVID-19 and then recovered. And their blood or their plasma is full of the antibodies that helped them recover from the disease. And so if you take their plasma and give it to somebody who's sick, the hope is that, that will help them get better. And this is actually been used in other infectious diseases, and it does work to some degree. The other thing that's happening is people are taking that plasma, and they are concentrating it and turning it into a drug, which can be delivered instead of, you know, a bag of blood.

KELLY: Right. And then I mentioned there are other things that are being tested, maybe aren't actually being used in hospitals yet. What else is actually looking promising?

PALCA: Not routinely. Not routinely used in hospitals. Well, one is an antiviral. So remdesivir is a drug that blocks the ability of the virus to replicate. So is this drug with the terrific name of EIDD-2801.


PALCA: It was developed - (laughter) yeah, I know. It was developed at Emory University, and it's now being marketed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. And Merck, the big pharmaceutical company, has joined in. And that says to me at least that they see great promise there. It's being tested in clinical trials in the U.K., and it seems to be showing great promise. It's also shown to work, at least in animal studies previously, with SARS, which was also a coronavirus-caused illness. And so there's hope that it might work there.

KELLY: Right. I mean, the question on all of our minds is, for treatment that might be ready and ready soon, what else are you keeping your eye on?

PALCA: Well, actually, there is something called a monoclonal antibody, which is a synthetic version of the antibodies that our bodies make. And there is one monoclonal antibody that's already begun testing in humans. There are others that are coming along very soon. There are more than a dozen others that are coming. These are drugs that have been used to treat other human diseases, and they actually do look quite promising in animal studies. And they're anxious to try them or eager to try them in humans as well.

KELLY: So many things to watch in the pipeline.

Thank you for the update, Joe.

PALCA: You're welcome. And there's more to come. We haven't stopped yet.

KELLY: Not yet, no. Not until we get that cure. That's NPR's Joe Palca reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.