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Army signs agreement with drug giant Gilead on experimental COVID-19 treatment

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U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command has signed an arrangement with Gilead Sciences to provide the company’s investigational coronavirus drug to U.S. troops confirmed to have the COVID-19 virus.

Gilead’s medication, remdesivir, was approved for clinical research in February by the Food and Drug Administration. The medication, which initially was developed by the Foster City, California-based company to treat Ebola, has had some demonstrated success targeting coronaviruses, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS.

The medicine, given intravenously, is currently being tested for safety and effectiveness in two separate clinical trials in China and one by the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases. In the U.S. study, the first volunteer was an evacuee from the Diamond Princess cruise ship hospitalized with the illness at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Under the agreement between Gilead and U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, remdesivir will be provided to the Defense Department at no cost.

“Together with our government and industry partners, we are progressing at almost revolutionary rates to deliver effective treatment and prevention products that will protect the citizens of the world and preserve the readiness and lethality of our service members,” Army Brig. Gen. Michael Talley, commanding general of USAMRDC and Fort Detrick, Maryland, said in a statement Tuesday.

Gilead Science Chief Medical Officer Dr. Merdad Parsey said last month the speed of remdesivir’s development “reflects the pressing need for treatment options and the shared commitment” of industry, government and health services “to respond to this public health threat with the highest urgency.”

Other companies besides Gilead are developing treatments for the virus, but none are in clinical trials. The COVID-19 coronavirus has infected nearly 650 people in the United States and killed 25, while worldwide, the number of cases has passed 100,000, including 3,281 deaths.

Private companies and federal researchers also are working to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command personnel are conducting animal studies for a vaccine they began developing in January shortly after the outbreak began in Wuhan, China.

Officials expect a vaccine could be ready by next winter, should COVID-19 become a seasonal illness similar to the influenza virus.

“We are trying a variety of medications and testing them in different scenarios so we hope that we will have some medical countermeasures available sooner” than a vaccine, Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul A. Friedrichs told reporters during a press conference Tuesday at the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense has at least 10 cases of COVID-19: an active-duty service member and spouse who are quarantined in their off-base home near Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington: a Marine assigned to Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia; an active-duty soldier in South Korea, a sailor in Italy, four additional family members and a contractor assigned to the Navy Bureau of Medicine in Falls Church, Virginia.

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