Taiwan to start clinical trials on antiviral drug remdesivir

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TAIPEI (CNA) — National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) has consulted with the United States and is to start clinical trials in Taiwan of the antiviral drug remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19 coronavirus, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Wednesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first U.S. clinical trial involving the use of remdesivir on patients with coronavirus to evaluate the efficacy of the experimental antiviral drug developed by American biotech firm Gilead Sciences.

Remdesivir could provide an effective treatment for COVID-19 victims and NTUH is preparing to make Taiwan part of the clinical research, said Shih Chung-liang (石崇良), director-general of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Department of Medical Affairs.

Under the government’s draft plan, one hospital each in northern, central and southern Taiwan will be designated for the screening of potential patients for the clinical trials, but details are still being worked out, according to Shih.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, said that Taiwan will set up strict standards for the selection of potential participants in the trials.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) said the previous day that the U.S. has begun clinical trials on remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19 at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).

The first trial participant is a U.S. citizen who was repatriated after being quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked in Japan and who volunteered to participate in the study.

In related news, Taiwanese researchers said they were able to make a small amount of remdesivir, which is the only therapy so far that has shown promise for treating COVID-19.

Chein Rong-jie (陳榮傑), an assistant research fellow at Academic Sinica’s Institute of Chemistry, told CNA that his research team has synthesized more than 1 gram of remdesivir at a 99 percent level of purity after he announced last week that it had completed the synthesis of over 100 milligrams of the experimental antiviral drug in two weeks at a 97 percent level of purity.

On Monday, the nonprofit government-run National Health Research Institutes announced that it has also synthesized more than 1 gram of remdesivir.

The announcement came after it announced last Thursday that it had synthesized more than 1 milligram of remdesivir at 97 percent purity.