The rush to secure doses of the antiviral remdesivir is unfounded as it has little or no impact on survival in those hospitalised with Covid-19, leading doctors and members of the state task force have said.
The drug, first developed to treat hepatitis C and later tested against Ebola and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), does not hold life-saving benefits for Covid-19 patients and can only help reduce hospital stay by two or three days, doctors said.
In guidelines issued last year, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said the intravenous drug cannot be used as standard care and remains beneficial only if used during the first 10 days of infection.
Dr Shashank Joshi, a member of the state Covid task force, said people should stop panic-buying the drug. “The rush for the drug is unfounded. It has restrictions on use and should be given only during the first nine days. It’s a drug that only reduces viral replication in the body. It does not have the potential to reduce mortality. No study of the drug, worldwide, has shown an ability to reduce mortality,” Dr Joshi said.
He added doctors may be prescribing the drug, which cuts hospital stay, to make more beds immediately available for more Covid patients.
A senior doctor, another member of the state Covid advisory group, said favipiravir is the only other antiviral being recommended besides remdesivir. However, favipiravir has better impact if administered during the first five to six days of Covid onset.
Research shows favipiravir was first used against SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan. Then, as the pandemic spread through Europe, the drug was given emergency use approvals in Italy, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Kazakhstan. In June last year, the Drugs Controller General of India okayed favipiravir use in those with mild to moderate Covid-19.
Dr Ajay Godse, a chest specialist with the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Thane said remdesivir worked in almost 95% of patients. But he said it should not be considered a “miracle drug” .
“Prolonged viremia, which means longer presence of the virus in the body, requires medication in the form of antivirals. We found that remdesivir worked in our patients. It’s a good drug, but people should not pin their hopes on it,” Dr Godse said.
He added that they had used favipiravir in May last year, because it was an oral medicine and showed early promise. However, they found it to be weaker compared to remdesivir and useful only if used within the first five to six days of infection.
“And considering its impact on kidney functioning and uric acid generation in the body, we have not used it since,” Dr Godse said.