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Chicago Researchers Excited About Encouraging Results For Antiviral Remdesivir In Treating COVID-19

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There is new hope in the fight against the coronavirus.

Encouraging new results have emerged with regard to the antiviral drug remdesivir, which is being tested in Chicago.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey has been following the testing for weeks.

"What it has proven is a drug can block this virus," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci was talking about remdesivir, the antiviral drug involved in a worldwide study of about 75 testing sites where patients received the drug as a daily IV.

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Two of the sites involving 34 patients are in Chicago. We've been following the progress since the end of March.

Almost exactly a month ago, Dr. Richard Novak – head of infectious diseases at the University of Illinois Health and Hospitals System – said a study showing a benefit from remdesivir was one of the best-case scenarios.

"Definitely a game changer - and the reason it's a game changer is because now we have a treatment," Novak said.

Novak is the principal investigator for the remdesivir trial at UI Health, which had 15 patients enrolled.

Dr. Babfemi Taiwo is lead investigator for the Northwestern Medicine trial, where 19 coronavirus patients were part of the study.

"It is a glimmer of hope," Taiwo said. "It is a very exciting time. It's a promising time, and I think it's very good news for our patients."

Both researchers were part of an emergency call last night with study investigators.

On Wednesday came the announcement that patients who received remdesivir had a 31% faster time to recovery than those who received placebo.

Remdesivir patients also saw a reduced mortality rate - 8.0% for the group receiving remdesivir versus 11% for the placebo.

"I would say it's not a miracle drug, but it's certainly a very important drug that is needed and that would help a lot of people," Taiwo said.

If approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, remdesivir would be the first drug officially approved to treat COVID-19.

And experts said that it's certainly something to smile about.

"There's reason to be happy today," Novak said. "There's finally something to fight back with."

The University of Chicago is also running a separate study with the drug and have seen positive results.

For the next steps, the FDA needs to approve for special use. That had yet to happen as of 10 p.m. Wednesday, but after Dr. Fauci's comments Wednesday morning, that approval could come at any moment.

Then, Gilead, the company that produces remdesivir, would be tasked with ramping up production of the drug.

Gilead said it has been increasing production since January. In April, the company said they would be providing their existing supply to patients with the most severe symptoms at no cost, but so far, they have not provided a dollar amount.

CBS 2's Megan Hickey and Charlie De Mar contributed to this report.

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