Health Canada authorizes remdesivir to treat severe COVID-19

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Health Canada has authorized the use of the drug remdesivir to treat patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

The agency announced the decision in a press release Tuesday morning, saying this is the first drug Health Canada has authorized for the treatment of COVID-19.

The drug is to be used in patients with severe pneumonia symptoms as a result of their coronavirus infection, and who require supplemental oxygen to breathe. It will not be available outside of a hospital setting, government officials said.

Health Canada is authorizing its use in adults and adolescents over the age of 12. The drug manufacturer, Gilead, did not seek to have it authorized for use in pregnant women or children.

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The drug is approved with conditions that require Gilead to continue to monitor its safety and efficacy.

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The U.S., Singapore, Japan, Australia and Europe have already conditionally approved remdesivir for use.

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The drug interferes with the coronavirus’s ability to copy its genetic material. In a U.S. government-led study, remdesivir shortened recovery time by 31 per cent — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those given just usual care. It had not improved survival according to preliminary results after two weeks of follow-up.

But while the drug is approved for use in Canada, actually getting it could be tricky. The U.S. government purchased nearly the entire global supply at the end of June.

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“Quite frankly, the supply is very limited globally from this company,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, at a press conference Tuesday.

“So those discussions are taking place right now, I think the company will begin to accelerate its capacity but the bottom line is the supply is not plentiful. So we will do what we can to get some of the supply for Canada.”

— With files from the Associated Press

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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