FILE - In this Monday, March 2, 2020 file photo, Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O'Day speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.
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FILE - In this Monday, March 2, 2020 file photo, Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O'Day speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.

Though not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Georgia Department of Public Health is distributing the antiviral medication remdesivir to hospitals with an abundance of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals with 10 or more COVID-19 positive patients on ventilators or patients on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which is a machine that takes over the work of the heart and lungs will receive some of the first allotment, DPH said in a Saturday statement.

The 30 cases alloted from the federal government can treat about 110 patients, depending on how long each patient needs treatment, DPH said. A second, much larger allotment, of remdesivir will be distributed next week.

DPH leadership, including district health directors and emergency preparedness staff, developed the distribution plan according to FDA guidelines for its use. It is based on the number of patients on ventilators, the most severely ill and clinical best practices.

Remdesivir is an antiviral medicine being used to treat hospitalized patients with serious symptoms caused by COVID-19 like low oxygen levels or pneumonia. The drug is showing promise against COVID-19 in clinical trials, Dr. Aneesh Mehta said.

RELATED: Antiviral Drug Remdesivir Shows Promise Against COVID-19 In Trials

Mehta is the lead investigator of Emory University’s remdesivir clinical trial (known as the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial, or ACTT). The trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and is the first clinical trial launched in the United States to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19. Emory has the largest number of trial participants.

Hospitalized patients with advanced COVID-19 and lung involvement who received remdesivir recovered faster than similar patients who received placebo, according to a preliminary data analysis released April 29.

Remdesivir given intravenously seems to stop the SARS-COV-2 virus from replicating in the body, Mehta said.

RELATED: Gilead Declines 'Rare Disease' Status For Experimental Coronavirus Drug

Preliminary analysis shows the median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with remdesivir compared with 15 days for those who received placebo. Recovery in this study was defined as being well enough for hospital discharge or returning to normal activity level.

For years, Gilead Sciences, Inc. was primarily focused on ushering remdesivir into trials and toward approval for a different kind of infection: Ebola, STAT news recently reported. Mehta said doctors know remdesivir has minimal side effects because of its use with Ebola patients.

Because the virus may have done damage already, seen as inflammation in the lungs, remdesivir may need to be coupled with other medications or treatments.

Gilead committed to supplying approximately 607,000 vials of the experimental drug over the next six weeks to treat an estimated 78,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients under an emergency use agreement. The donation to the United States is part of 1.5 million vials of remdesivir the company is donating worldwide.

Mehta emphasized the importance of understanding antivirals are in general not “silver bullets” but they work by slowly preventing the virus from making more of itself.

"That helps us shorten the time the patient is in the hospital," Mehta said, adding that mediation techniques are still necessary to prevent overwhelming hospitals.

"The goal is to prevent the infections and preventing patients from becoming so sick they need ICU level care," he said.

It has been found to shorten the duration of disease in patients being treated in inpatient hospital settings.

The following hospitals are receiving remdesivir: Tift Regional Medical Center, Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Grady Health System, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, and Augusta University Medical Center.

DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey called remdesivir a promising treatment for hospitals on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

“While this drug is not a cure for COVID-19, getting it into the hospitals and improving patient outcomes is moving in the right direction.”

Dr. Aneesh Mehta, associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine updates press during a Zoom conference April 29, 2020.
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Dr. Aneesh Mehta, associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine updates press during a Zoom conference April 29, 2020.