• New reports of a potential coronavirus treatment working for coronavirus patients are moving the entire stock market, with the S&P 500 up about 2% on Friday morning.
  • STAT reporters Adam Feuerstein and Matthew Herper wrote Thursday that a leaked video recording showed University of Chicago doctors describing the antiviral drug, called remdesivir, working for the vast majority of COVID-19 patients.  
  • Those doctors treated 125 patients, mostly with severe cases of diseases. Two patients died and most were discharged in less than a week, according to STAT’s report.
  • The market is rallying off the news, and the biotech giant Gilead Sciences, which makes remdesivir, is up 10% this morning. But Wall Street analysts cautioned the limited evidence doesn’t support concluding that the drug works.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Promising reports on a potential coronavirus treatment are rallying the entire stock market, but Wall Street’s biotech analysts are urging caution. 

Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir produced promising results among 125 COVID-19 patients treated at the University of Chicago’s medical center. STAT reporters Adam Feuerstein and Matthew Herper wrote Thursday that a leaked video recording showed doctors at the medical center discussing remdesivir’s results. 

The medical center is participating in two late-stage clinical trials that Gilead is running to test remdesivir in COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The highlights from this early U-Chicago report: 2% of patients died and most were discharged in less than a week. The doctors noted they saw fevers quickly falling and some patients coming off of ventilators “a day after starting therapy.” 

The report helped send the S&P 500 up about 2% on Friday morning. Gilead’s stock surged 10%.

While the report is promising, Wall Street analysts that cover the biotechnology industry were more skeptical than the broader market. 

‘A lack of critical analysis’

Baird’s Brian Skorney wrote to investors that “exuberance on COVID is out of control.” 

“While the article paints a pretty picture, we think the ensuing exuberance shows a lack of critical analysis,” Skorney wrote. “This is uncontrolled, anecdotal data, which often winds up not being confirmed in controlled studies.”

Additionally, Gilead’s trials have strict criteria for which patients are included, even for the study focused on severe patients. That severe trial excludes patients that have been on ventilators for five or more days, have evidence of multiorgan failure, or have certain kidney or liver issues. 

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STAT did not report any detailed data from U-Chicago, just the general description of results given by doctors. Gilead has locked the data from the first 400 patients in the trial, with data expected any day now, STAT reported. 

Read more: We just got more ‘hopeful’ data on Gilead’s potential coronavirus treatment, but it’s too soon to tell if the drug works

An encouraging report with ‘many caveats’

UBS analyst Navin Jacob cautioned this U-Chicago report represents about 3% of Gilead’s clinical trial program. While Jacob said he is “encouraged” by the report, he also note “many caveats” given the lack of control arm and no detailed data on how healthy or sick these patients. 

The importance of remdesivir working could be a massive answer to a pandemic that has the world hiding indoors. If a treatment can lower fatality rates, it could accelerate a partial reopening of the economy, Jacob wrote. 

Raymond James analyst Steven Seedhouse said this Chicago report “adds confusion not confidence.”

But Seedhouse added if the larger dataset holds up and shows a single-digit mortality rate and 90% discharge rate for patients not on ventilators, that would be “probably sufficient” for an emergency use authorization from US regulators. 

Read more: Here are the 15 leading coronavirus treatments already being tested in COVID-19 patients, and the major trials now underway to see if they work

Another unanswered question is the status of two trials that were being running in China to test remdesivir. Those studies were being run by an independent investigator, not Gilead. 

They were also randomized, placebo-controlled studies that were supposed to produce data this month. But both have recently been terminated earlier than expected, with Chinese researchers citing a lack of COVID-19 patients to test. 

More studies on remdesivir are underway

Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat questioned whether an interim analysis of those studies done in mid-March should have been stopped early if remdesivir was working as well as this U-Chicago report implies. Researchers often stop studies early if the evidence is overwhelmingly positive or negative. 

“We should remain cautiously optimistic on remdesivir,” Raffat wrote. “Remdesivir is not a silver bullet. Remdesivir is also not a zero.”

Baird’s Skorney said a clear answer will come from a randomized, placebo-controlled study of remdesivir being run the National Institutes of Health. Data from that trial is expected in late May. 

Reports like this Chicago data and compassionate use results recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine “offer miracle case reports,” Skorney wrote, but not high-quality data that can support conclusions.

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