SEOUL, May 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is seeking to import remdesivir as an emergency treatment for coronavirus patients, based on recommendations by local experts and clinical tests, health officials said Friday.
The investigational antiviral drug by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences Inc. will only be administered to critically ill coronavirus patients, as a group of local infectious disease experts recommended it after checking its effectiveness and safety.
The central quarantine control headquarters said it will ask the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to allow special imports of remdesivir.
"Recommendations made by the central clinical review board indicated that the drug is effective, especially since there are no other anti-viral medications that can be used at the moment," Jeong Eun-kyeong, head of Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a daily briefing.
The drug safety watchdog is expected to give its approval based on its own assessment, she said.
Jeong said due to tight supply it is uncertain when the drug will arrive in the country.
Hospitals will be asked to use the drug on critically ill COVID-19 patients, even if all required tests on the drug have not been completed,
About 5 percent of coronavirus patients in the country --those who are classified as critically ill -- can be given the drug.
Remdesivir was originally developed to combat the deadly viral haemorrhagic fever Ebola that occurs in parts of Africa.
Clinical trials in the United States have shown it can shorten the recovery period of some patients from around 15 days to 11 days. Findings, moreover, showed that remdesivir can reduce the fatality rate of infected people to about 7 percent, down from 12 percent for patients who did not get the drug.
Early this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authority so the drug can be used for virus patients who need intensive care and are on medical ventilators.
Since its first virus outbreak on Jan. 20, South Korea has reported over 11,402 cases of COVID-19, with its death toll standing at 269. The fatality rate came to 2.37 percent.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 10,363.
On Friday, the country identified 58 additional virus cases following the nearly two-month high of 79 the previous day.
All new cases have been in Seoul and neighboring Gyeonggi Province and Incheon where cluster infections linked to a distribution center have caused local authorities to carry out tighter quarantine measures.
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