Major U.S. stock indexes saw its worst day in years on Monday, with the Dow Jones plunging over 1,000 points (3.4 percent) and S&P 500 sliding 110 points (3.3 percent), as cases of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, skyrocketed in countries outside China and fear of the deadly virus’s economic impact escalated to a truly global level.
But amid the stock rout, Gilead Sciences, a U.S. biotech company, was quietly rising against the tide, as investors betted on one of its experimental drugs, Remdesivir, as a potential panacea for COVID-19.
On Monday, the World Health Organization said at a press conference in Beijing that Remdesivir is by far the only antiviral drug that may have “real efficacy” in treating COVID-19. The news sent shares of Gilead Sciences to jump 4.6 percent.
Remdesivir was originally developed to treat the Ebola virus during the Western Africa epidemic from 2013 to 2016. Despite promising results in its early development stage, the drug failed to show significant efficacy in combating the virus. However, having seen some animal-trial success in treating infectious respiratory diseases like SARS and MERS, which are induced by coronaviruses that are structurally similar to COVID-19, Gilead began discussion with researchers and clinicians in the U.S. and China late last month about testing Remdesivir on COVID-19 patients.
In collaboration with Chinese health authorities, Gilead started running trials of the new drug on selected patients in Wuhan, China, where the virus first erupted. The company said it’s currently working on two trials—one for patients with severe symptoms and the other with moderate symptoms. Trial results are expected in April.
Several other biotech companies are also working to find treatment for the new coronavirus. Pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline, for example, are working on vaccines. AbbVie has said that it has seen promising results for combating COVID-19 using a mixture of two of its HIV medications and Tamiflu, an antiviral drug for treating flu.