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SEOUL, July 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Wednesday began providing remdesivir, an experimental drug conventionally used for Ebola, as a treatment drug for the novel coronavirus.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said the medication developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences Inc. will be used for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.
Coronavirus patients with symptoms of pneumonia who need oxygen treatment, such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), will be administered the drug.
A total of 33 coronavirus patients in critical condition will first be administered with the antiviral drug, the KCDC said.
The KCDC said the first batch of antiviral drugs has been donated by Gilead Science and plans to begin talks to purchase more next month, with details of the imported amount and price not to be disclosed.
On Monday, Gilead Sciences announced it will provide remdesivir at US$390 per vial for direct government purchases by the United Sates and other developed countries.
The COVID-19 patients are usually given six vials of remdesivir over five days, which amounts to $2,340 per patient for a typical regimen.
"Health authorities will make utmost efforts to secure the treatment by cooperating with Gilead Science Korea, a local importer, to secure additional amounts of remdesivir," KCDC chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said in a press release.
Last month, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, South Korea's drug safety watchdog, approved the use of remdesivir as a treatment drug for COVID-19, allowing special imports by using its special measures procedure.
Remdesivir is the first medication shown to have a therapeutic effect on COVID-19 patients since there is no scientifically proven treatment and no vaccine for the deadly illness.
The KCDC said there has been no report of COVID-19 patients suffering from severe side effects.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a report saying that COVID-19 patients who received remdesivir recovered faster than similar patients who received a placebo.
The trial study, the first clinical trial launched in the United States to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19, was conducted on a total of 1,063 patients.
Preliminary results indicate that patients who received remdesivir had a 31 percent faster recovery time than those who received a placebo, according to the NIH.
South Korea added 51 cases Wednesday, including 36 local infections, raising the total caseload to 12,850, according to the KCDC.
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