The experimental treatment given to President Trump is a reasonable move to prevent the progression of covid-19, but it’s unknown whether it’s going to be effective, a top UPMC doctor said Saturday.
“We have no idea, in the president, whether it will hasten his recovery,” said Dr. John Mellors, chief of the infectious diseases division and an expert in antiviral treatments for HIV and AIDS.
At issue is the lack of effective treatments for early covid infection, something that applies to Trump, who is believed to have been diagnosed Thursday. Trump was taken Friday to Walter Reed National Medical Center, where he was doing “very well” on Saturday, according to his doctors.
The White House has confirmed Trump received an experimental antibody cocktail developed by the biotech firm Regeneron. The company last week released early data from a clinical trial showing the drug helped people shake covid-19 symptoms faster and reduced the amount of the virus in their bodies.
Regeneron’s antibody drug has not received emergency use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was provided in response to a compassionate use request.
“I’m a big fan of antibodies for treatment of covid,” Mellors said. “It makes a lot of sense to me to give a potent neutralizing antibody.”
Regeneron said this week the improvements were based on results for 275 trial patients. While clinical results are encouraging, Mellors said the company has not released the primary data beyond the initial findings posted in a news release.
“What I’ve learned in 30 years as a researcher is that one has to see the data oneself and be able to ask questions,” he said.
Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer told CNN it makes sense to pursue testing of the drug in light of the positive results observed so far.
“We hope that we will give his immune system enough of a boost so that he can win this and make a complete recovery,” Schleifer said.
Trump is also taking the antiviral drug remdesivir, which in tests has shown to speed the recovery time of patients with the disease. Remdesivir, made by Gilead Sciences, was granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Mellors said studies have shown remdesivir to be most helpful in patients who require supplemental oxygen. There’s insufficient data to shed light on its effectiveness early in the infection, he said.
Mellors said he is confident the biomedical community will come up with better interventions against the virus.
In the meantime, the best solution is for people to wear masks.
“They’re cheap, they’re effective and they should be used in the vast majority of situations,” he said. “To do anything less than that, in my mind, is irresponsible.”
Luis Fábregas is editor of the Tribune-Review’s Alle-Kiski Valley content. Follow him on Twitter @LuisTrib.
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