Hopes rise in virus battle as US scientists hail drug trial

Shaun Tandon with AFP bureaus

US scientists on Wednesday hailed a potential breakthrough in the coronavirus fight as a trial showed patients responding to an antiviral drug, fueling global hopes for a return to normal despite mounting deaths and abysmal economic news.

The medical news was enough to propel a rebound on Wall Street even after data showed the pandemic had plunged the United States into its worst economic slump in a decade and Germany predicted its biggest recession since the aftermath of World War II.

In the first proof of successful treatment against the illness that has claimed more than 226,000 lives, a clinical trial of the drug remdesivir showed that patients recovered about 30 percent faster than those on a placebo.

“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Anthony Fauci, the top US epidemiologist who oversaw the study, told reporters at the White House.

Fauci likened the finding to the first retrovirals that worked, albeit with modest success, against HIV in the 1980s.

The trial, which involved 1,063 people across 68 locations in the US, Europe and Asia, showed that “a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said.

Remdesivir failed in trials against the Ebola virus and a smaller study, released last week by the World Health Organization, found limited effects among patients in Wuhan, China, where the illness was first detected last year.

Senior WHO official Michael Ryan declined to weigh in on the latest findings Wednesday, saying he had not reviewed the complete study.

“We are all hoping — fervently hoping — that one or more of the treatments currently under observation and under trial will result in altering clinical outcomes” and reducing deaths, he said.

The UN health agency said its emergency committee would meet Thursday for the first time since it declared coronavirus an international emergency three months ago.

US President Donald Trump has assailed the WHO as not responding quickly or aggressively enough, although critics say he is trying to deflect attention from his own response.

Itching to return to the campaign trail as he faces re-election, Trump announced he would resume travel next week with an event in the battleground state of Arizona — but not yet resume rallies, when contagion remains a risk.

“Hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll have some massive rallies and people will be sitting next to each other,” he said.

US deaths shot past 60,000 on Wednesday. The United States has suffered the most deaths, with Britain’s toll on Wednesday shooting up to the world’s third worst at 26,097.

More than 27,000 people have died in Italy. (AFP)