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What is Remdesivir, the first drug put forward to treat COVID-19 in Europe?

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 This is an April 30, 2020, file photo showing Gilead Sciences headquarters in Foster City, Calif.
This is an April 30, 2020, file photo showing Gilead Sciences headquarters in Foster City, Calif.   -   Copyright  Ben Margot/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Remdesivir has become the first drug to be recommended for use by health authorities in the European Union to treat those suffering from COVID-19.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that the anti-viral drug should be authorised for use to treat patients with the coronavirus.

The drug, which is designed to interfere with an enzyme the virus uses to copy its genetic material, is currently given through an IV so can only be used to treat hospitalised patients.

But on June 22, Daniel O'Day, the chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences, the drug's creator, said it was beginning trials on an inhaled version of the drug, which would make it easier to administer.

Remdesivir is already approved for treating COVID-19 in Japan and is authorized for emergency use in the United States, for certain patients.

O'Day announced that more than two million remdesivir treatment courses will be manufactured by the end of the year and "many millions more by 2021." He added that Gilead had licensed the drug to nine so-called "generic" manufacturers, meaning that it will be avaliable in poorer nations.

On June 1, Gilead published a study involving 600 patients who had moderate pneumonia but did not need oxygen support. It revealed that those who took remdesivir for five days were 65% more likely to improve by at least one on a seven-point scale.

There were no deaths among patients on five days of the drug, two among those on 10 days, and four among patients getting standard care alone. Nausea and headache were a little more common among those on the drug.

A previous study in the U.S., led by the National Institutes of Health recently found that it shortened average recovery time from 15 days to 11 days in hospitalized patients with severe disease.

The problem with Remdesivir, as O'Day admitted in his June 22 letter, is that it is anti-viral and, as such, treats COVID-19 rather than the secondary conditions that coronavirus causes.

Many of those that have died have succumbed to conditions such as pneumonia, which are a result of the body's reaction to the virus. To treat pneumonia requires an anti-inflammatory drug

On June 16, researchers in England said that a cheap, widely-available steroid - dexamethasone - could reduce deaths by a third in severely ill hospitalised patients. When the results were published, the British government immediately authorised the use of the drug in the UK.

O'Day specifically mentioned dexamethasone in his most recent latter, announcing that trials were currently underway on how to use anti-virals and anti-inflammatory drugs together to fight both the virus and the often fatal conditions that it causes.