Mistaken disclosure of remdesivir failure surprises Taiwan: CECC


Taipei, April 24 (CNA) The mistaken publication by the World Health Organization (WHO) of results of a clinical trial on remdesivir, a potential therapy for COVID-19 patients, surprised Taiwan, but will not affect the separate trial in which it is participating.

The Financial Times reported Thursday that the antiviral drug to treat the new coronavirus disease failed in its first randomized clinical trial, which was done in China, citing draft documents “published accidentally” by the WHO and seen by the Financial Times.

“The Chinese trial showed remdesivir — developed by California-based Gilead Sciences — did not improve patients’ condition or reduce the pathogen’s presence in the bloodstream,” the Financial Times reported.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) noted Friday how irregular the release of the information was, saying clinical trials represent the cooperation of “many countries and many centers,” and participating units must keep any findings confidential during the process.

Disclosing partial data could lead to people “mistaking a part for the whole,” cautioned Chen, who also heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which is coordinating Taiwan’s COVID-19 response.

CECC advisor Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said remdesivir clinical trials are being undertaken in two patient groups — those with moderate symptoms and those who are severely ill.

Larger clinical trials in which Taiwanese teams are participating are still ongoing, he said, but because there have not been many confirmed COVID-19 cases in Taiwan, the small number of cases could not be used to draw any conclusions about the drug.

The results of the trials draw on data compiled from all participants rather than on data from any one test site, and that data has to be analyzed and quantified to determine remdesivir’s effectiveness, Chang said, warning against premature conclusions.

Hopes for the experimental antiviral drug were raised after a report in STAT on April 16 suggested that severe COVID-19 patients in a Chicago hospital taking remdesivir were seeing “rapid recoveries,” citing a video of the discussion about the results at that hospital.

The report acknowledged, however, that “the same trials are being run concurrently at other institutions, and it’s impossible to determine the full study results with any certainty.”

The Financial Times report offered a different result from the trial in China, in which researchers studied 237 patients, administering remdesivir to 158 and comparing their progress with the remaining 79 who received a placebo.

News of the failed trial spread before the WHO removed an online post of details on its clinical trials database, causing Gilead shares to plummet on the Nasdaq on Thursday.

The WHO told the Financial Times that the draft document, which is undergoing peer review, was published early by mistake.

“In response to WHO asking for information and studies to be shared early, a draft document was provided by the authors to WHO and inadvertently posted on the website and taken down as soon as the mistake was noticed,” the report said.

(By Chen Chih-chung, Chen Wei-ting and Elizabeth Hsu)

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