(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead, paras 2-3; UPDATES with additional information from 6th para; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Wednesday approved the use of remdesivir as a treatment drug for the new coronavirus, paving the way for inbound shipments of the new drug for the first time.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it has decided to allow special imports of the drug using its special measures procedure.
South Korea has yet to complete its clinical tests on the new drug by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences Inc., but the drug safety watchdog earlier said the drug has been proven in many other countries to help reduce the time needed to cure coronavirus patients.
The move to allow special imports of remdesivir came on a request from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) to use the drug as a treatment for new coronavirus patients.
The country will soon hold discussions with the U.S. producer of the drug, Gilead Sciences, to arrange the first shipment for import, according to the watchdog.
The local unit of the U.S. pharmaceutical firm said it will work closely with the local government to ensure early arrival of the potential treatment for the new coronavirus.
"The company will first discuss how much is needed and by when with the government and file a request with the headquarters accordingly," Gilead Sciences Korea said.
The investigational antiviral drug will likely be administered in the treatment of critically ill novel coronavirus patients.
About 5 percent of coronavirus patients in the country are classified as critically ill.
South Korea has so far reported 11,590 COVID-19 patients, 10,467 of whom have been released from hospitals or quarantine after full recoveries.
A total of 850 people remained hospitalized or in quarantine as of Wednesday, while 273 people have died from the viral disease.
Remdesivir was originally developed to combat the deadly viral hemorrhagic fever Ebola.
Clinical trials in the United States have shown it can shorten the recovery period of some patients from around 15 days to 11 days.
Tests have also shown 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.
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