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UC Scientist Urges Caution Before Taking Remdesivir As COVID Treatment

Remdesivir, now known as Veklury, is administered by intravenous drip.
Remdesivir, now known as Veklury, is administered by intravenous drip.

What seemed like a miracle drug for critically ill COVID patients may have some dangerous side effects according to a University of Cincinnati pharmaceutical scientist.

A new study's lead author Bingfang Yan and his graduate students found remdesivir, now known as Veklury, can permanently damage a key enzyme that helps break down many medications.

"So now based on our study and if you get remdesivir along with other medications that are metabolized by this particular enzyme (CES2) it may cause problems," Yan says.

CES2 is found in the intestine, liver and kidney.

"This enzyme normally breaks down and activates medicines in certain antivirals or inactivates other medicines such in certain anticoagulants,” says Yan, professor at the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy. An antiviral is a drug against viruses and an anticoagulant is a drug that hinders the clotting of blood.

This breakdown increases the toxicity of many more medications such as with heart medicines and anticancer drugs, he says.

It can also cause other antiviral drugs, such as those used for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, to not work properly.

Yan says patients need CES2 to break down Veklury itself. He says the absence of the enzyme may be why the drug works on some COVID patients and others it does not.

The FDA has given Veklury emergency use authorization but Yan says the World Health Organization cautioned more study was needed.

Yan's research is published in Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology.

He recommends patients talk to their doctor before receiving Veklury (remdesivir).

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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.