UT Health San Antonio announced this week that it has joined an international effort to test an experimental antiviral drug, remdesivir, as a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus.

The medical school has enrolled five people in the trial since last Thursday, said Dr. Thomas Patterson, professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at UT Health San Antonio who is overseeing the local enrollment site for patients receiving treatment at University Hospital.

Brooke Army Medical Center is also a clinical trial site for the antiviral drug. Along with UT Health San Antonio, they are among dozens of sites around the world participating in the clinical trial, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The trial is evaluating whether remdesivir, an investigational drug developed by California-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. can be effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

Remdesivir is an antiviral, intravenous medicine that works by blocking the reproduction of the virus, Patterson said. “We hope giving the drug will result in better patient outcomes because we stop the virus from replicating itself and continuing to cause disease in our patients.”

The University Hospital study site is only enrolling coronavirus patients over the age of 17 who require hospitalization, rather than the majority of people who develop milder symptoms from the virus, because those people are at the highest risk of serious complications or death, Patterson said Monday.

The trial, which enrolled its first participants on Feb. 17 at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, is the first clinical trial in the U.S. to evaluate an experimental treatment for the infectious disease.

“Trials of this type usually move along a lot slower, but this one is moving quickly because of the urgent need and large number of patients who qualify for use,” Patterson said. “This will hopefully allow the study to reach a conclusion much more quickly.”

The first trial participant is an American who was repatriated after being quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked in Yokohama, Japan, according to NIH officials.

Remdesivir has shown promise in laboratory and animal tests against COVID-19 and several other related viruses, and has been tested in humans with ebola, Patterson said. It also has been tested in animals in studies of the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which are caused by other coronaviruses, according to NIH officials.

Patterson said UT Health San Antonio began looking into participating in clinical trials to treat coronavirus since Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland received its first repatriated Americans from Wuhan, China, on Feb. 7.

“We found out we were accepted to participate [Feb. 21], and moved incredibly quickly to activate the trial because of the importance it has for our patients and our community,” he said.

Worldwide, 440 patients are being sought for the study, which is being conducted at 75 study sites, located primarily in the U.S.

There have been 200 patients enrolled so far, Patterson said, noting the number of enrolled patients is “progressing rapidly because of the explosion in diagnoses across the world.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.