SPOKANE, Wash. — Doctors at MultiCare hospitals are participating in a clinical trial of an experimental drug used to treat coronavirus patients. One of the Washington physicians involved in the trial says he remains hopeful as treatment options expand.
Dr. Vinay Malhotra serves as a principal investigator with MultiCare in Gilead Science's trial of remdesivir, the first drug shown to help fight COVID-19.
Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center is also participating in the Gilead study along with MultiCare hospitals in Spokane.
Malhotra said the trial looks at patients with moderate and severe illness. Since the trial began, MultiCare has treated 53 patients with the drug and discharged 34. Three people have died.
Five of the patients involved in the trial are from Spokane.
“You can see that Spokane already had low incidence of COVID-19 compared to the western side, so that’s why there’s a difference in numbers," Malhotra explained.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration allowed emergency use of remdesivir after preliminary results from the Gilead study showed that it shortened the time to recovery by 31%, or about four days on average, for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Those given the drug were able to leave the hospital in 11 days on average versus 15 days for the comparison group. The drug also might be reducing deaths, although that’s not certain from the partial results revealed so far.
In an interview on Friday, Malhotra emphasized that data that has been released is only preliminary and the trial is still in its infancy. But he did offer some promising news.
“What we have seen is that when we have made phone calls…after the discharge, the first thing the patients is tell us that there’s an improvement in cough, muscles aches, pains, fevers. Those are the first things [that] they notice improvement," Malhotra said.
He said it is unclear where the positive outcome can be attributed to remdesivir or the body's immune response, adding that it is important to wait until the entirety of the data is released.
Remdesivir is not a "miracle drug" by any means, as other drug treatments are being considered, Malhotra said.
One of those treatments includes plasma donations from other COVID-19 patients. The century-old treatment has been used to treat many diseases such as measles, Ebola, and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
“In our experience, it [remdesivir] is helpful in the early stages," Malhotra said. "What can we do in the middle or towards the end? That’s where the combination therapies need to be looked at, different strategies need to be looked at.”
"The way I would address it is that remdesivir is one of the tools in your toolbox," he added.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but sometimes pneumonia requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.
But those involved in the remdesivir trial have seen coronavirus patients who reported with thrombosis (blood clotting) and stroke, Malhotra said. Reports from news outlets nationwide have indicated that coronavirus patients, some of which had very mild symptoms, have suffered from strokes.
“It will be interesting to see when all of this is done what kind of patients had stroke or thrombogenic complications, and what was used to treat those patients and how the approaches differ from region to region," Malhotra added.
Despite many frightening realities of the virus, Malhotra said people should remain hopeful.
"Folks need to understand this is not all doom and gloom that you hear or see a lot of the time. There is hope," he said. "There is a lot of work going on around the country between different investigators looking at different things. There are different forms of treatment being looked at.”
“I’m hopeful...that we’ll have a vaccine soon. There’s so many candidates and one or two more may succeed after that, which will help us tremendously," he added. "And then if we have a few tools in our toolbox in the treatment arm, I think a combination of that along with sensibilities from folks in terms of social distancing…those are the strategies that would help us take care of this virus.”