A final report from the multinational placebo-controlled ACTT-1 trial confirms that remdesivir is effective and well tolerated for shortening the time to recovery from COVID-19 infection.
In May 2020, remdesivir received Food and Drug Administration approval for emergency treatment of severe COVID-19 on the basis of a preliminary report on this trial. In August 2020, the FDA expanded the indication to include all hospitalized adult and pediatric patients with suspected or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection irrespective of severity.
“Our findings were consistent with the findings of the preliminary report: a 10-day course of remdesivir was superior to placebo in the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19,” reported a team of investigators led by John H. Beigel, MD, of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The drug’s broadened indication was not based on the ACTT-1 trial, according to Dr. Beigel. “Other data have demonstrated that remdesivir shortens recovery in patients with lower acuity. In our study, evidence of pneumonia was an enrollment requirement,” he explained in an interview.
In the newly published final ACTT-1 data, the median time to recovery was 10 days for those on active therapy versus 15 days for those randomized to placebo. With a rate ratio of 1.29 (P less than .001), this translated to a recovery that was about one third faster.
In this final report, remdesivir’s significant advantage over placebo regarding the trial’s primary endpoint was reinforced by efficacy on multiple secondary endpoints.
This benefits on multiple secondary endpoints included a 50% greater odds ratio (OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.2-1.9) of significant clinical improvement by day 15 after adjustment for baseline severity, a shorter initial length of hospital stay (12 vs. 17 days) and fewer days on oxygen supplementation (13 vs. 21 days) for the subgroup of patients on oxygen at enrollment.
Although the numerically lower mortality in the remdesivir arm (6.75 vs. 11.9%) did not reach statistical significance, Dr. Beigel said, “mortality was moving in the same direction as the other key endpoints.”
According to the study investigators, the types of rates of adverse events on remdesivir, which inhibits viral replication, “were generally similar in the remdesivir and placebo groups.”
In ACTT-1, 1,062 patients were randomized to remdesivir (200 mg loading dose followed by 100 mg daily for up to 9 days) or placebo. Patients were enrolled at study sites in North America, Europe, and Asia.
The data of ACTT-1 confirm a benefit from remdesivir in hospitalized COVID-19 patients with severe disease, but Dr. Beigel said he agrees with the current FDA indication that supports treatment in any hospitalized COVID-19 patient.
“We saw bigger benefits in patients with more severe infections. The benefits are not as large in patients with mild disease, but I think remdesivir should be considered in any hospitalized patient,” Dr. Beigel said.
This point of view is shared.
“I would give this drug to anyone in the hospital infected with COVID-19 assuming there was an ample supply and no need for rationing,” said Donna E. Sweet, MD, professor of internal medicine, University of Kansas, Wichita. She noted that this study has implications for hospital and hospital staff, as well as for patients.
“This type of reduction in recovery time means a reduction in potential exposures to hospital staff, a reduced need for PPE [personal protective equipment], and it will free up beds in the ICU [intensive care unit],” said Dr. Sweet, who also serves as an editorial advisory board member for Internal Medicine News.
An infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota also considers remdesivir to have an important role for conserving resources that deserves emphasis.
The reduction in time to recovery “is of benefit to the health system by maintaining hospital bed capacity,” said David R. Boulware, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
According to his reading of the available data, including those from ACTT-1, the benefit appears to be greatest in those with a moderate degree of illness, which he defined as “sick enough to be hospitalized and require oxygen, yet not severely sick [and] requiring a ventilator or [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation].”
This does not preclude a benefit in those with more severe or milder disease, but patients with mild disease “are likely to recover regardless – or despite – whatever therapy they receive,” he said.
Dr. Beigel, the principal investigator of this trial, reports no potential conflicts of interest.