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COVID-19: Gilead deals with ‘overwhelming’ remdesivir demands, Eli Lilly halts trial enrolment

As of this morning – Tuesday 24th March – the current recorded case count for COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the UK has hit 6,650, with 335 deaths and 135 recoveries.

As the UK comes to terms with significantly stricter lockdown rules this morning, following prime minister Boris Johnson’s speech last night, pharma companies are continuing to strive to find a potential vaccine amidst the many struggles the pandemic is throwing at them.

Critically however, Gilead has had to temporarily halt new individual compassionate-use requests for remdesivir, which is undergoing multiple clinical trials as a potential treatment, citing “overwhelming demand over the last several days.”

Back in February Gilead announced the initiation of a new clinical trial to assess the safety and efficacy of the drug, in a first-of-its kind study to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19.

The investigational broad-spectrum antiviral treatment was previously tested in humans with Ebola virus disease and has shown promise in animal models for treating Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which are caused by other coronaviruses.

As a result of the outbreak spreading in Europe and the US, Gilead says there has been an “exponential increase” in compassionate-use requests that has “flooded an emergency treatment access system that was set up for very limited access to investigational medicines and never intended for use in response to a pandemic.”

Eli Lilly has also had to postpone most new unrelated study starts, and temporarily suspend recruiting new patients or healthy volunteers in most of its ongoing trials.

As a result of the difficult move, the company says it hopes to “ease the burden on participating healthcare facilities and allow physicians to focus more of their efforts on combatting COVID-19.”

In an additional bid to alleviate some of the pressure that the pandemic has placed on the healthcare system, Lilly has also “repurposed our laboratories to conduct diagnostic testing for patients and we are researching potential therapeutics.”

Other big pharma players have announced updates today, including Roche, which has announced plans to initiate a global phase III study and collect data on Actemra’s (tocilizumab) potential utility in severe COVID-19 pneumonia patients.