Sat, Feb 08, 2020 - Page 2 News List

Virus Outbreak: Taiwan seeks drug to fight virus

SHOWING PROMISE:NTU Hospital said a US drugmaker would donate doses of an antiviral medication, but it still requires government approval before it could be used

Staff writer, with CNA

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung speaks at the Central Epidemic Command Center at the Centers for Disease Control in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: Tu Chien-jung, Taipei Times

Taiwan has asked the US-based drugmaker Gilead Sciences to reserve the nation doses of its new drug remdesivir, amid reports that the antiviral medication might be effective in treating the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said on Thursday.

Chen confirmed the request, and said that the drug — which is not yet licensed or approved in any nation — still requires government approval before it could be used.

Developed for use against the Ebola virus, remdesivir has garnered attention as a possible treatment for 2019-nCoV, following positive results from US and Chinese doctors who have administered the drug in clinical trials.

On Friday last week, Gilead said it was working with Chinese authorities to test the drug on coronavirus patients.

National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital last month reached out to Gilead before the Lunar New Year holiday and the company agreed to send doses of the drug as a charitable donation, NTU vice president Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said on Thursday.

Chang said the hospital then prepared application documents for the drug’s experimental use, including treatment plans and patient consent forms, which were submitted to the Ministry of Health and Welfare after gaining approval from the hospital’s ethics review committee.

Chang, who serves as Taipei-area director of the Centers for Disease Controls’ Communicable Disease Control Medical Network, did not give details of the agreement, such as how many doses of the drug would be sent or when they would arrive.

Some doctors have reported that remdesivir was beneficial in treating the related coronavirus Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) during a 2015 outbreak in South Korea, Chang said.

Despite its initial promise in stopping the reproduction of MERS and SARS in the respiratory tract, clinical trials ultimately found it to be less effective than other medications, and it was not developed for use on the mass market, Chang added.

As all of Taiwan’s current 2019-nCoV patients are in stable condition and only one has pneumonia, none require remdesivir at the moment, Chang said.

Doctors are treating the pneumonia patients with supportive care, which includes using supplemental oxygen to reduce breathing difficulties, Chang said.

As doctors have yet to find any drugs that are highly effective in treating the coronavirus, Chang said none of the patients have been treated with other antiviral medications.

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