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Gilead Sciences has partnered with Chinese health authorities to conduct a randomised Phase III clinical trial to assess the use of antiviral drug candidate remdesivir (GS-5734) for the potential treatment of coronavirus.

The company originally developed the drug to treat the Ebola virus, but it was found to be ineffective. Preclinical tests have revealed that the drug may help treat the new 2019-nCoV virus.

The drug was found to show encouraging results when administered to the first US patient infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, according to a publication in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The US patient was given remdesivir for compassionate use on day seven of illness and their clinical condition was observed to have improved on day eight.

In Beijing, China, the new placebo-controlled Phase III trial of Gilead’s drug will be performed at Friendship Hospital. The study is set to enrol 270 patients with mild and moderate pneumonia caused by the coronavirus.

Gilead is said to be expediting the laboratory testing of remdesivir against 2019-nCoV samples and working with the Chinese authorities.

The company said in a statement: “Gilead is working closely with global health authorities to respond to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak through the appropriate experimental use of our investigational compound remdesivir.

“While there are no antiviral data for remdesivir that show activity against 2019-nCoV at this time, available data in other coronaviruses give us hope.”

Remdesivir is yet to be licensed or approved. In-vitro and in-vivo analysis in animal models demonstrated the drug’s activity against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which are viral pathogens with structural similarity to 2019-nCoV.

The Wuhan coronavirus currently lacks cure or specific treatments. Gilead’s drug is among the first to enter clinical trials.