Taiwan successfully synthesizes antiviral drug remdesivir

Chein Rong-jie, center, an assistant research fellow with Academic Sinica's Institute of Chemistry, and his seven-member research team have completed the synthesis of over 100 milligrams of remdesivir in two weeks at a 97 percent level of purity. (CNA)
Chein Rong-jie, center, an assistant research fellow with Academic Sinica's Institute of Chemistry, and his seven-member research team have completed the synthesis of over 100 milligrams of remdesivir in two weeks at a 97 percent level of purity. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Two Taiwanese research teams have synthesized remdesivir, an experimental medication that has shown promise in fighting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that has left more than 2,200 people dead since the outbreak began in December.

At a press event Friday, Chein Rong-jie (陳榮傑), an assistant research fellow with Academic Sinica’s Institute of Chemistry, said his seven-member research team completed the synthesis of over 100 milligrams of remdesivir in two weeks at a 97 percent level of purity.

The team was assigned to try to recreate the drug by Academic Sinica President James Liao (廖俊智) on Feb. 6 as part of a search to make available possible remedies for the coronavirus after it was said to be potentially effective against the disease.

Chein said the team began from nothing in its efforts because of the difficulty of acquiring raw materials, but was still able to follow the steps laid out by the American company that developed the novel antiviral drug to achieve success.

Despite the synthesis, it will still require the authorization of the drug’s developer to mass produce the medication, Chein said, noting the drug production would have to start from a quantity of at least 100 grams.

Liao said the result reflected Academic Sinica’s ability to synthesize medications.

“They can help with mass production through technical transfer in support of the nation’s epidemic prevention if there’s the need,” Liao said.

Chein said the team will now move on to the synthesis of other potential medications targeted at the coronavirus, but its result will be available for development by the government or private concerns.

The nonprofit government-run National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) on Thursday also announced it had synthesized more than one milligram of remdesivir at a 97 percent level of purity.

NHRI President Liang Kung-yee (梁賡義) said the experimental drug is regarded as a potential remedy for COVID-19 infection after the first patient confirmed to have been infected with the potentially fatal virus in the United States recovered after taking remdesivir.

Upon learning of the successful treatment, the NHRI mobilized its researchers and began efforts to try to synthesize the drug on Feb. 5, Liang added.

Remdesivir is a novel antiviral drug developed by Gilead Sciences, a research-based American biopharmaceutical company, as a treatment for Ebola disease and Marbug virus infections.

Laboratory tests suggests remdesivir is effective against some RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. The medication was pushed to treat the West African Ebola virus epidemic of 2013-2016.

In January, as an investigational antiviral therapy, remdesivir was administered to the first COVID-19 patient in Snohomish County, Washington, for “compassionate use” after he progressed to pneumonia.

While no broad conclusions were made based on the single treatment, the patient’s condition improved dramatically the next day, according to a research paper published on the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 31.

Taiwan has recorded 26 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection and one death as of Friday.