Missouri’s Health Innovation Talent is Leading the Charge in COVID-19 Fight

Dr. Sarah George, the principal investigator of the remdesivir trial at Saint Louis University, has studied infectious diseases for almost 25 years, and she has seen pandemics before, including HIV, H1N1, Ebola, and Zika. Now she is using her expertise in studying treatments for COVID-19, specifically remdesivir.

“This is the first time we’ve had something that we knew actually did work,” said Dr. George, after the National Institutes of Health announced that a clinical trial of remdesivir showed that the antiviral drug shortened the recovery process for patients with advanced COVID-19.

“There’s been a lot of small studies of X, Y, and Z, most of which didn’t really show much of an effect or you couldn’t be sure it was real because it was so small, and it wasn’t properly controlled. This is the first time we’ve had good solid data.”

In the clinical trials, remdesivir was shown to shorten recovery time for COVID-19 patients. The drug works, Dr. George explains, by directly attacking the COVID-19 virus’s ability to replicate itself.

“The COVID-19 virus, like every other virus, the way it causes disease and spreads is it gets into our own body’s cells,” said Dr. George. “It basically hijacks them, takes them over, and turns them into virus factories. So the virus reproduces itself and kills our body cells, and, of course, we’re spreading it to other people during that time.”

Health care professionals and researchers are learning new things about COVID-19 every day—and on the fly. For example, the illness can manifest in many different ways.

“Initially we thought, respiratory virus, causes kind of a flu-like illness, and some people progress to a pneumonia, which can be fatal,” said Dr. George. “We now know that there’s a lot higher rate of kidney failure than we should normally see. We still don’t understand that yet, but it’s possible this virus actually attacks our kidneys directly.”

Researchers at Missouri’s Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development, one of just nine elite Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEU) in the U.S., have been putting their experience to work searching for a vaccine for the virus since the outbreak began.

“We refine practices and try to streamline so every time we can get better and faster,” said Dr. Daniel Hoft, Director of the Center for Vaccine Development. “It’s a work in progress but it’s worked pretty well so far.”

SLU has been a VTEU since 1989. The designation allows it to conduct all four phases of vaccine and treatment trials that lead up to approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and includes clinical studies in collaboration with partners from the industry.

What Next?