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Remdesivir antiviral for COVID-19

Promising results using remdesivir antiviral for COVID-19 in the first clinical trials for experimental treatments.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) belongs to a large family of illnesses that range from the common cold to previous worldwide epidemics like the Severe Epidemic Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The family is zoonotic in nature, meaning transmission occurs between animals and humans. SARS-CoV, for example, originated from civet cats.

The current global outbreak involves the infectious disease identified as Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Believed to originate from bats (but currently unconfirmed), the World Health Organization has reported over 75,000 cases in China alone. Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine to combat the COVID-19, and researchers around the world have been diligent in the genomic analysis of the disease in attempts to find a cure.

The National Institutes of Health recently announced the use of the antiviral drug, remdesivir, in the nation’s first clinical trials for experimental treatments. Published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the data showed promising results against COVID-19.

The Coronavirus replicates by copying its genetic material through an enzyme called RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. The drug in question, remdesivir, has broad spectrum antiviral properties that takes advantage of this replication characteristic and is able to incorporate itself into new RNA strands.

Through biochemical analysis of COVID-19 and similar diseases such as SARS-CoV and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), the researchers confirmed that remdesivir does target the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase in viruses, and surprisingly incorporates itself into different parts of the RNA strands depending on the disease. After successful incorporation, the replication process stops shortly afterwards. The halt was believed to occur due to the new RNA data forming a strange shape that doesn’t fit with the enzyme. It was noted that more structural data would be required to confirm this idea.

The research is supported by previous studies that confirmed remdesivir’s RNA replication blocking in other diseases such as Ebola. This study suggests the likely applicability of remdesivir antiviral for COVID-19. Further development from these results will be required to design antiviral drugs against the COVID-19. If the drug is able to incorporate itself into multiple sites in the RNA genome, its overall potency may be increased.

Written by Stephanie Tsang


“Coronavirus.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus.

Gordon, Calvin J, et al. “The Antiviral Compound Remdesivir Potently Inhibits RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus.” Journal of Biological Chemistry, 24 Feb. 2020, doi:10.1074/jbc.ac120.013056.

Oldach, Laurel. “Study Sheds Light on How a Drug Being Tested in COVID-19 Patients Works.” EurekAlert!, 27 Feb. 2020, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-02/asfb-ssl022720.php.

“Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus …” World Health Organization, Feb. 2020, www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf.

Image by iXimus from Pixabay 



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