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Gilead CEO Expects Remdesivir to Effectively Treat Covid Strains Found in UK, South Africa

Gilead Sciences Inc | Reuters
  • "We fully expect remdesivir to be effective against these new strains," Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O'Day told CNBC.
  • Gilead hiked its 2020 guidance due in part to a surge in demand for remdesivir following the surge in Covid hospitalizations.

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O'Day told CNBC on Monday the company is testing remdesivir to determine whether it is effective in treating new coronavirus strains that emerged in the U.K. and South Africa.

"Remdesivir works at the source in the cell where the virus replicates, and what we know is in these new variants, that part of the cell is not changing at all in fact," O'Day said on "Squawk Box." "So, we fully expect remdesivir to be effective against these new strains."

The antiviral drug, which last fall became the first fully approved treatment for Covid-19 in the U.S., has helped shorten the recovery time for some patients who are hospitalized with the disease. President Donald Trump received it after he was diagnosed with Covid in October.

The coronavirus variants initially found in the U.K. and South Africa are believed to be more transmissible than other strains, causing alarm among some medical professionals that they could lead to further burden on health-care systems. These strains do not appear to be deadlier. Multiple U.S. states have detected the virus variant found in the U.K.

The discovery of these mutations also comes as Covid vaccines are being rolled out across the U.S. and other nations. It has led to some questions about whether the vaccines — along with treatments for the disease — would retain their efficacy.

In a separate interview Monday on CNBC, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin expressed confidence that the vaccine his company developed with Pfizer would work against the new variants.

While Gilead is examining its drug specifically against the strains discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, O'Day said his California-based biotech has already tested it against more than 2,000 strains in laboratories. In each case, he said, "it maintains its effectiveness."

O'Day likened remdesivir to Tamiflu, an antiviral drug used to treat seasonal influenza, which was co-developed by Gilead. "For two decades now, Tamiflu continues to work against many different strains of the influenza virus from season to season where the vaccine, of course, has to alter and change because of the way it works on the virus," he said.

"I expect remdesivir with these variants will continue to make an impact on patients," added O'Day, who joined Gilead in March 2019. He previously was chief executive of Roche Pharmaceuticals.

Shares of Gilead were up 1.7% in early trading Monday after the company raised its full-year 2020 earnings and sales outlook. Gilead now anticipates earnings per share of $6.98 to $7.08, compared with its earlier forecast of $6.25 to $6.60

The guidance hike is due in part to the latest uptick in Covid infections, which has boosted demand for remdesivir. About 1 in 2 patients hospitalized with Covid is receiving the antiviral drug, O'Day told CNBC on Monday.

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