Friday 24 April 2020 9:30 am

Hopes dashed as Gilead's coronavirus drug remdesivir fails in first trial

A coronavirus drug that had lifted the hopes of governments and investors has failed in its first trial, casting gloom over markets and raising the prospect that a treatment could be a long way off. 

Remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug from US pharmaceutical firm Gilead, did not improve coronavirus patients’ condition or reduce the virus’ presence in the bloodstream, according to leaked World Health Organization documents reported by the Financial Times.

Read more: FTSE 100 falls as doubts set in about coronavirus drug

However, Gilead said in a statement that its first clinical trial, which was being carried on in China, was cancelled early due to low enrolment. It said it was therefore “underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions”.

The report was enough to cause a reversal in US stocks overnight. They ended the day roughly flat, having climbed as much as two per cent.

Stocks had been lifted last week by reports that remdesivir had helped the majority of coronavirus patients it had been tested on in a Chicago hospital.

Analysts have long said a treatment for coronavirus is the only thing that could meaningfully boost markets.

UK and European stocks dropped this morning, however, after hopes remdesivir could treat coronavirus were dashed.

The trial in China gave the drug to 158 people and compared them to 79 others. It did not improve their symptoms or reduce the amount of pathogen in their bloodstreams, the FT said.

Remdesivir also gave some patients significant side effects, meaning 18 people had to be taken off it.

“In this study of hospitalised adult patients with severe Covid-19 that was terminated prematurely, remdesivir was not associated with clinical or virological benefits,” the filing on the WHO database said.

The World Health Organization admitted that it had accidentally shared the results of the trial on its website.

Read more: Coronavirus: Gilead drug remdesivir sparks optimism about treatment

Gilead said that the post to the WHO’s database “included inappropriate characterizations of the study”. 

“The study was terminated early due to low enrollment and, as a result, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions.”

Gilead’s own shares sank four per cent on the findings.

Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, said: “The US stock markets closed Thursday’s session flat, while Gilead shares tumbled.

“New cases in Europe seem to be on a falling trend as attention turns toward the winding down of the economic shutdowns across the continent. But news is mixed in the US, with reports pointing at significantly higher contagion numbers in New York compared with the official counts. Fatalities in California rose the most during the last 24 hours.”