On May 15, Texas Monthly reported on their conversation with Dr. Hana El Sahly of Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine. In the coming days, she will begin registering hospitalized participants at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and Ben Taub Hospital for the second phase of the National Institutes of Health’s Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial, or ACTT. She’s Baylor’s lead investigator for participation in the program, which in its first phase analyzed a randomized, controlled trial designed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the investigational antiviral remdesivir. Preliminary findings suggested that patients treated with remdesivir recovered faster than patients who received a placebo, which led to the May 1 announcement that remdesivir would be the first medication to receive FDA authorization for emergency use for COVID-19.
“We found that for patients who have COVID-19 pneumonia bad enough to get them to the hospital, treatment with remdesivir expedites the time to recovery by an average of four days per patient,” says El Sahly, an associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology who also serves as the principal investigator for the college’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit. “This particular finding is of importance in a pandemic because one of the main reasons, not all the reasons, we are on lockdown is to allow the public health sector to cope with the volume of patients. So if a hospital can get the the COVID pneumonia patients better, faster, this means the hospital is able to cope with more patients.”
Studying Remdesivir Paired with an Immunomodulator
ACTT’s second phase—which ramped up this week at twenty university hospitals across the country—will evaluate the success of remdesivir when paired with an immunomodulator. Meanwhile, El Sahly’s colleague at Baylor Dr. Peter J. Hotez is leading a team working on one of what are believed to be seventy-plus COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development (Texas Monthly recently documented his team’s 2016 effort at creating a different coronavirus vaccine). On The National Podcast of Texas, El Sahly outlined the initial challenges that researchers face on both the therapeutic and vaccine fronts, detailed which parts of COVID-19’s behavior is still unknown, and told us how she’s managing her own hopes and expectations while maintaining scientific distance.
Three Main Takeaways
- El Sahly believes that the most important unknown that still surrounds COVID-19 is whether recovered patients have temporary or enduring immunity.
- El Sahly says that, so far, asymptomatic spread has been the most surprising aspect of COVID-19’s pathology.
- Knowing what she knows as an infectious disease investigator, El Sahly says she’s trying to walk the line between pragmatism and hopefulness.
Lead Researcher/ Investigator
Hana Mohammed El Sahly, MD, Associate Professor, Molecular Virology and Microbiology, Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU), Baylor College of Medicine