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NIH trial: Gilead’s drug works best in COVID patients on oxygen

Tori Holland

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NIH trial: Gilead's drug works best in COVID patients on oxygen

(Reuters) – The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Friday said that data from its trial of Gilead Sciences Inc’s (GILD.O) remdesivir show that the drug offers the most benefit for COVID-19 patients who need extra oxygen but do not require mechanical ventilation.

FILE PHOTO: An ampule of remdesivir is pictured during a news conference at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, Germany, April 8, 2020, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues. Ulrich Perrey/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The peer-reviewed data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The trial, for which final results are still trickling in, showed that recovery time for patients given remdesivir was shortened by four days, or 31%, compared to placebo patients. The biggest benefit was seen in patients who were sick enough to need supplemental oxygen, but were not on a ventilator.

The data detailed in the journal is similar to early results that the NIH released last month from the study, which began in February with 1,063 participants in 10 countries.

Researchers now calculate that after follow up, 7% of patients given remdesivir will have died, compared with 12% in the placebo group, but they said the difference in the death rate was not significant.

“Our findings highlight the need to identify COVID-19 cases and start antiviral treatment before the pulmonary disease progresses to require mechanical ventilation,” the researchers wrote.

They noted that “given high mortality despite the use of remdesivir,” it is likely that the antiviral drug would be more effective in combination with other treatments for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Gilead said it expects results from its own study of remdesivir in patients with moderate COVID-19 at the end of this month.

“We look forward to the initiation of combination studies of remdesivir to understand whether the addition of other drugs may enhance patient outcomes,” Gilead Chief Medical Officer Merdad Parsey said in a statement.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of remdesivir on May 1, and Gilead has been supplying the drug to hospitals as part of a pledge to donate 1.5 million vials – or enough for at least 140,000 patients.

Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni, Aurora Ellis and Sonya Hepinstall

After being a professional journalist for 5 years and understanding the ups and downs of health care sector all over the world, Tori shifted her focus to the digital world. Today, she works as a contributor for News Brig with a knack for covering general and health news in the best possible format.

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Health/Science/Environment

After Pakistan’s lockdown gamble, COVID-19 cases surge

Tori Holland

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After Pakistan's lockdown gamble, COVID-19 cases surge

ISLAMABAD/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Four weeks ago, with its most important festival coming up and millions of people facing starvation as economic activity dwindled, Pakistan lifted a two-month-long coronavirus lockdown.  

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask walks amidst the rush of people outside an electronics market, after Pakistan started easing the lockdown restrictions, as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Karachi, Pakistan June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Prime Minister Imran Khan has said despite rising infections and deaths, the country would need to learn to “live with” the virus to avert pushing tens of millions living on daily wages into destitution.

Now, a Reuters review of government data shows over 20,000 cases of the virus were identified in the three weeks before the lockdown was lifted, and more than double that figure were identified in the three weeks since.

To be sure, testing rates have also increased. But of those tested, the daily average of positive results climbed from on average 11.5% in the three weeks before the lockdown was lifted, to 15.4% on average in the subsequent three weeks. The ratio is around 23% this week, according to the data.

Pakistan has officially identified over 80,000 cases of COVID-19, with 1,770 confirmed deaths.

“Those numbers are concerning, since they do suggest there may still be widespread transmission in certain parts of the country,” said Claire Standley, assistant research professor at the Department of International Health at Georgetown University.

Experts say measures that could curb cases – like limits on religious gatherings and crowded shopping areas and emphasising social distancing – should be reinstated and some doctors are raising the alarm.

According to a letter seen by Reuters, a committee of experts backed by the local health department in Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, told the provincial government the lockdown needed to continue. The letter said random testing suggested more than 670,000 people in the provincial capital Lahore had likely contracted the virus, many of them asymptomatic.

The Punjab Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid said the letter had not been disregarded, but set aside in light of a Supreme Court decision that lockdowns should be lifted.

Most hospitals in Lahore are now full and are sending cases to Mayo Hospital, a public facility with more than 400 beds dedicated to COVID-19 cases, said Salman Kazmi, general secretary of the Young Doctor’s Association, who is treating coronavirus patients there.

Asad Aslam, the CEO of Mayo, however disputed claims that Lahore hospitals were saturated. “We can handle further burden of patients,” he said.

“HERD IMMUNITY”

Pakistan lifted its lockdown on May 9, about two weeks before the Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and is celebrated with family gatherings and feasting. Transport and most businesses have re-opened but cinemas, theatres and schools remain closed.

There has been growing debate among experts globally on whether populous developing nations can afford comprehensive social distancing measures to contain the coronavirus while avoiding economic ruin.

Some officials have suggested “herd immunity” could contain the virus, a situation where enough people in a population have developed immunity to an infection to be able to effectively stop that disease from spreading. However, the World Health Organization has warned countries that have “lax measures” in place against counting on herd immunity to halt the spread of COVID-19.

“The Pakistan government is setting itself up for a huge gamble but it’s also a test case for herd immunity because South Asia has no other choice,” a senior European Union official who oversees South Asia told Reuters.

Yet even those advocating rolling back strict lockdowns in developing nations are alarmed at the teeming crowds in Pakistan’s streets, shopping malls and mosques, the ramping up of domestic flights, and the movement of millions of people for the Eid holiday.

“It’s not about this dichotomy between complete lockdown and fully open,” Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, a professor of economics at Yale University, told Reuters.

He said a smarter strategy would be to allow people out for core economic and public health activities, rather than a total relaxation of rules.

“There should still be complete bans on religious gatherings and social gatherings…those are things for which we need to see much better leadership,” he said.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Umar Farooq; additional reporting by Gibran Peshimam, Rupam Jain and Mubasher Bukhari; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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Thailand reports one new coronavirus cases, no new deaths

Tori Holland

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Thailand reports one new coronavirus cases, no new deaths

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask and dressed in traditional costume visits Wat Chaiwatthanaram after the Thai government eased isolation measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the city of Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand, June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Friday reported one new coronavirus infection and no new deaths, taking its total confirmed cases to 3,102, of which 58 have been fatalities.

The new case was a Thai man who had returned from Kuwait and was in quarantine, where most of Thailand’s recent cases have been detected, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the government’s COVID-19 Administration Centre.

There are 2,971 patients who have recovered.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty

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Hitachi, Toshiba, Miraca to set up factory for coronavirus antigen tests

Tori Holland

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Hitachi, Toshiba, Miraca to set up factory for coronavirus antigen tests

FILE PHOTO: Hitachi logos are seen on Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power) Oma Nuclear Power Station under construction in Oma town, Aomori prefecture, Japan December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Kentaro Hamada

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese industrial conglomerates Hitachi Ltd and Toshiba Corp will join with Miraca Holdings to increase production of antigen-based coronavirus tests, aiding in the country’s effort to screen more people for the new virus.

The alliance will double production of Miraca subsidiary Fujirebio’s testing kits, which received government approval in May, to 400,000 a week, the three companies said in a joint statement on Friday.

A new plant to make the kits will be established in Hokkaido prefecture, Japan’s northern island, and will start operations by December.

Larger output of antigen tests, designed for rapid detection of the virus, will help Japan do more surveillance of the virus. Japan is far behind many industrialised nations in testing for the virus, which critics say obscures the true scale of infection.

“We believe we can contribute in providing a system that enables prompt testing should second and third waves come,” a Miraca spokeswoman said.

Antigen tests scan for proteins found on or inside a virus, and typically test a sample taken from the nasal cavity using swabs. The tests can detect the virus quickly but produce false negatives at a higher rate than the currently dominant polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

It takes about 10 to 30 minutes to get a result with Fujirebio’s palm-sized antigen test kit, Miraca said, compared with four to six hours for a PCR test. Miraca does not disclose the false negative rate for the kits.

In a rare partnership, Hitachi will provide engineering know-how, while Toshiba will offer facilities. Fujirebio currently produces test kits at a plant in southern Japan.

The coronavirus has infected more than 6.6 million people and killed about 391,000 around the world. Japan has had about 17,000 infections and 910 known deaths to date.

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Stephen Coates

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