Two US Soldiers with COVID-19 'Up and Walking Around' After Taking Ebola Drug

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Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy tugs his protective face mask into place
Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy tugs his protective face mask into place and reads through COVID-19 screening questions prior to entering Kenner Army Health Clinic during an April 8, 2020, tour of Fort Lee, Virginia. He was accompanied by Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston. (Army photo by Tammy L. Reed)

U.S. Army medical officials say they have successfully treated two soldiers diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, using an experimental antiviral drug designed to treat pathogens such as Ebola.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy described the use of remdesivir on COVID-19 patients on Friday, according to an Army news release.

Scientists at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have been working with researchers around the world on COVID-19 vaccines, McCarthy said, adding that six possible vaccines have shown the most promise. Four are being tested on animals and two on human subjects.

Related: Army Researchers Begin Animal Testing of Coronavirus Vaccine

"Two soldiers diagnosed with coronavirus were given an antiviral drug used to treat the Ebola virus and successfully recovered," McCarthy said in the release. "They're up and walking around. Obviously, that's not that substantial of a sample size, but it shows that it can work."

The Army has a cooperative research and development agreement with Gilead Sciences -- the firm that makes remdesivir -- for the treatment of U.S. military personnel exposed to COVID-19.

"Currently, there are 12 Military Treatment Facilities capable of treating COVID-19 patients under this protocol, and several patients have received or are currently receiving the treatment," Lori Salvatore, a spokeswoman for Army Medical Research and Development Command, told Military.com.

In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed Gilead's remdesivir to proceed to clinical trials to evaluate its effectiveness for treating COVID-19, according to a U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity release.

Remdesivir is an investigational drug for the possible treatment of multiple emerging viral pathogens including Ebola and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also known as SARS-CoV-1, the release states.

In one limited study, 36 of 53 patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 showed clinical improvement after receiving remdesivir from Jan. 20 to March 7, according to an April 10 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Of the 53 patients whose data were analyzed, 22 were in the United States, 22 in Europe or Canada, and 9 in Japan, according to the article.

"At baseline, 30 patients (57%) were receiving mechanical ventilation and 4 (8%) were receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation," a process that involves pumping and oxygenating a patient's blood outside the body, so the heart and lungs can rest, the article states.

"During a median follow-up of 18 days, 36 patients (68%) had an improvement in oxygen-support class, including 17 of 30 patients (57%) receiving mechanical ventilation who were extubated," or taken off ventilation, according to the article.

A total of 25 patients were discharged from the hospital and seven patients in the group died from the virus, according to the article.

Military.com reached out to Gilead Sciences, based in Foster City, California, but did not receive a response by press time.

Seven clinical trials have been initiated to determine whether remdesivir is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19, according to an "Open Letter" from Daniel O'Day, chairman and CEO of Gilead, posted on the company's website April 10.

O'Day said he recognized that the study in the New England Journal of Medicine represents only a small portion of the critically ill patients who have been treated with remdesivir, according to the website.

"In the broader efforts to determine whether it is a safe and effective treatment, we have some way to go," O'Day said.

"Multiple clinical trials are underway across the world to build a complete picture of how remdesivir works in various contexts.

"We know that there is tremendous interest around when the data from these trials will be available and what they will tell us about remdesivir. ... We are working with intense speed to determine whether remdesivir could be an option, and we are committed to sharing information when it becomes available to us."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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