As U.K.'s coronavirus toll surges, Gilead kick-starts remdesivir trials across the country

A man wearing a mask on the London Underground due to coronavirus
This comes as the U.K. has seen has a surge in deaths, with London as the epicenter of the crisis in the country. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth via Newscred)

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson infected and isolated in Downing Street, and other top officials similarly afflicted with COVID-19, the U.K. is joining in the testing for Gilead Sciences' much-hyped antiviral candidate remdesivir.

The Big Biotech will launch a series of trial sites for its investigational broad-spectrum drug, originally designed to battle Ebola. As a nucleotide analog that mimics adenosine, one of the building blocks of any RNA virus’s genome, the therapy could also attack SARSCoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19—or so the theory goes.

Armed with the country's urgent public health research (UPHR) status, remdesivir w

ill now start two phase 3 trials—initially at 15 centers up and down the U.K.—to assess how well it can work in patients with moderate to severe COVID-19.

Virtual Roundtable

ASCO Explained: Expert predictions and takeaways from the world's biggest cancer meeting

Join FiercePharma for our ASCO pre- and post-show webinar series. We'll bring together a panel of experts to preview what to watch for at ASCO. Cancer experts will highlight closely watched data sets to be unveiled at the virtual meeting--and discuss how they could change prescribing patterns. Following the meeting, we’ll do a post-show wrap up to break down the biggest data that came out over the weekend, as well as the implications they could have for prescribers, patients and drugmakers.

“Gilead started research into remdesivir more than a decade ago. We are now in a position to consider its potential to treat COVID-19 and rapidly progress its development, and these clinical trials will help generate important data on the safety and efficacy of the medication in the coming weeks,” said Hilary Hutton-Squire, VP and GM of Gilead Sciences UK and Ireland.

The COVID-19 numbers are grim across Britain: At the end of March, deaths were around 1,800 with 25,000 confirmed cases, even with testing mostly limited to hospitalized patients. Case counts have jumped by more than 300 each day as March came to a close.

To handle the surge, 

a major new hospital with more 4,000 beds has come online inside a London conference center and the government has enlisted British manufacturers, including automakers, to build a fleet of new ventilators.

Having a treatment in their arsenal would be a game-changer, and officials say they're ready to move quickly to test any likely prospects. Siu Ping Lam, M.D., director of the licensing division at U.K. drug regulator MHRA, said in the statement that the agency "is ready to prioritize and provide any assistance for clinical trials and other regulatory applications in response to COVID-19, in line with government priorities.

“We have procedures for rapid scientific advice, reviews and approvals and are ready to support manufacturers, researchers and other regulators. We have dedicated resources to ensure this happens, as we did during the Ebola crisis when we authorized clinical trial applications within a week.”

There are already three ongoing COVID-19 clinical trials at locations across China and the U.S. for remdesivir. Doctors in the U.S. have also treated patients with the drug under the Food and Drug Administration’s compassionate use policy, and Gilead recently announced plans to expand that access program to approve treatment for multiple patients at a time.

Suggested Articles

The FDA named more than two dozen coronavirus antibody tests that should be taken off the market weeks after the agency clamped down on tests.

Inovio CEO J. Joseph Kim is undeterred by short sellers and other detractors who doubt his company can shuttle a COVID-19 DNA vaccine to market.

The machine-learning programs scroll through data to detect hard-to-spot patterns. Yet few have been tested against standard procedures.