First COVID-19 treatment approved by FDA studied early on during pandemic at Sarasota Memorial Hospital

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As cases of coronavirus surge across the country, federal regulators have now approved the antiviral treatment remdesivir as the first drug to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We were one of the first sites in Florida to actually enroll a patient,” said Dr. Kirk Voelker, the director of Clinical Research at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Since the start of clinical trials in April, an SMH spokesperson told 8 On Your Side 281 COVID-19 patients have been treated with remdesivir.

“I was pleased to see that it was approved,” Voelker said Friday on a Zoom call with reporters. “It will make it a lot easier for a lot of hospitals to start using the drug.”

The United States set a new single-day record on Thursday for new coronavirus infections with more than 77,000. That topped the previous mark of more than 75,000 in July at the height of the pandemic so far in Florida.

The Florida Department of Health added almost 3,700 new cases in the latest report released Friday.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital took part in the initial study of remdesivir led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health that found the drug Gilead Sciences Inc. is calling Veklury helped hospitalized patients recover faster.

“From a hospital’s perspective, having a patient discharged five to seven days earlier is well worth that several thousand dollars,” Voelker said about the drug’s cost.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Granted emergency use authorization in May. The new full approval means doctors no longer have to go through an extensive consent process with patients’ families before giving the medication through an IV.

“Now it has been vetted,” Voelker said. “It has shown to be safe and effective and a lot more physicians will feel better about using it.”

Voelker said remdesivir is most effective early in a patient’s fight against COVID-19 when the drug keeps the virus from replicating and overwhelming the person’s body.

“If you use it too late in the process, when patients are already on ventilators and very sick, there’s low chance its gonna do any good,” he explained.

A recent study by the World Health Organization found that remdesivir had “little or no effect on mortality” for hospitalized COVID-19 patients and it didn’t seem to speed up recovery any faster.

President Trumps doctors said he received the five-day remdesivir regimen as part of his COVID-19 treatment. The president also took an antibody cocktail by Regeneron that is not yet widely available and does not have emergency use authorization.

8 On Your Side spoke with one of the few coronavirus patients nationwide to take that experimental drug as part of the clinical trial at Tampa General Hospital.

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