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Arizona hospitals using antiviral medication to treat virus patients

(Getty Images/Stuart Franklin)

PHOENIX — For several months now, Arizona hospitals have been using an antiviral medication called remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients.

“It blocks the ability of the viral cells to replicate themselves by blocking a critical enzyme called RNA transcriptase,” HonorHealth Research Institute Medical Director Dr. Michael Gordon told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“And by blocking that, in theory, one could block the ability of the virus to reproduce and grow.”

Gordon said HonorHealth hospitals in Arizona have been using remdesivir for about two months. Other hospitals in the state that are also using the drug include Banner Health hospitals, Mayo Clinic and Valleywise Health.

The federal government approved the use of remdesivir, created by Gilead Sciences, in May. Research has shown it shortens recovery time for COVID-19 patients.

Gordon said HonorHealth hospitals provide remdesivir to patients who are within seven days of testing positive for COVID-19, are hospitalized and need oxygen to breathe. He said they’ve found the drug is more effective for those patients.

“The treatment of COVID-19 is not about a single drug,” Gordon added. “It’s about a group of therapies that are designed to try to reduce the morbidity and, ideally, the mortality from COVID-19.”

He explained that remdesivir is used in combination with other treatments, including convalescent palms from individuals who’ve recovered from COVID-19. Because of that, he said it’s difficult to know how much remdesivir contributed to a patient’s recovery.

“But when you look at the studies that have been done and the role of remdesivir compared to placebo, what we clearly see is an improvement in terms of length of hospitalization shortened by about four days and a reduction in mortality,” he said.

Results from a recent clinical trial of remdesivir found patients who were given the drug were in the hospital for 11 days, compared with 15 days for those who received placebo. Results also suggested a lower mortality rate for those who received remdesivir.

“There have been times when we have had very low supplies or we’ve had gaps,” Gordon said about remdesivir.

Doctors and nurses from other Arizona hospitals who also use remdesivir have also reported short supply of the medication.

“The hope is that as Gilead Sciences works hard to produce more remdesivir, that we will actually see those shortages and gaps become less of a problem,” Gordon said.

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