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Gilead Sciences to start testing inhaled version of remdesivir

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Gilead Sciences announced plans Monday to start testing an inhaled version of its experimental coronavirus drug to determine whether it could treat the deadly disease sooner.

The pharma giant will begin screening patients this week for early-stage trials of the breathable form of remdesivir, which has been shown to help COVID-19 patients recover faster, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day said. The company expects to begin the studies in August.

While patients currently get doses of remdesivir through IV drips, an inhaled form of the drug could be delivered through a nebulizer, which would make it easier to administer outside of hospitals at earlier stages of infection, O’Day said.

“For patients who are at high risk of disease progression, it could be particularly beneficial to start treatment outside the hospital,” O’Day said in an open letter detailing Gilead’s plans. “Our hope is that earlier intervention could help patients avoid hospitalization altogether.”

California-based Gilead revealed earlier this month that it was working on an inhaled form of remdesivir. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for emergency use in May after a government-backed study showed it helped reduce recovery times by four days on average.

Gilead has so far studied the drug only in hospitalized patients but now wants to explore its potential benefits outside of hospitals, according to O’Day. The company plans to conduct trials of the intravenous form in “outpatient settings” such as infusion centers and nursing homes, he said.

The next wave of research will also examine the use of remdesivir in children and in combination with two other drugs known as “immune modulators,” O’Day added. Gilead expects to manufacture more than 2 million treatment courses of the drug by the end of this year and “many millions more by 2021,” he said.

“Our best hope of beating COVID-19 is with a set of tools at our disposal: complementary therapeutics, effective vaccines and widespread testing,” O’Day said. “Having already seen that science can deliver answers, we can be hopeful of continued progress.”

Gilead shares tumbled as much as 3.1 percent to $75.04 despite the news on Monday. The stock ended last week up more than 19 percent for the year as Gilead emerged as one of the leaders in the pharmaceutical industry’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

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