Researchers at Penn Medicine going full steam ahead with coronavirus clinical trials

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Researchers around the world have taken an all hands approach to understanding the coronavirus, and the people at Penn Medicine are working on several clinical trials and studies.

Things are moving at lightspeed as doctors and researchers are doing four months worth of work in about 10 days.

"The reason why we're able to do it as quickly as we can is multi-faceted," said Penn Medicine chief clinical officer Dr. Emma Meagher. She explained the Food and Drug Administration and ethics boards have been expediting everything because non-essential trials are on hold.

"Patients want to participate," Meagher said. "One of the real challenges of doing clinical trials is people being willing to enroll in clinical trials when they may not get an active drug."

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that has almost become a household name because of President Trump's press conferences, and Penn Medicine is researching it extensively.

Remdesivir is a drug you may not have heard about. It's being used to treat people with severe COVID-19 symptoms. Meagher said it's very early but results so far are optimistic.

"It's intended to increase the rate at which you would clear the virus from your bloodstream. It's an antiviral, a little like an antibiotic would get rid of bacteria," she detailed, though she added they are careful not to jump to conclusions.

She added people who recover from severe cases of COVID-19 could experience some long-term effects because it takes such a toll on the lungs, kidneys and liver.

Meagher said they also have a group of health care workers and first responders who are giving blood samples frequently so they can see how antibodies develop in people who eventually become infected.

According to Meagher, these trials typically take about a year to complete.

"So I'm going to imagine that for remdesivir, we probably aren’t going to get a good sense of reliable information that will influence our decision for many months," she said.