The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has announced conditional approval of remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by Gilead Sciences, for the treatment of COVID-19 in Singapore.

The drug, which was first developed to treat Ebola, has been used in clinical trials in Singapore for patients with COVID-19, the infection caused by the new coronavirus.

The HSA approved remdesivir after consulting with its Medicines Advisory Committee. Doctors in Singapore can now use the drug to treat COVID-19 in adults who require supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

The agency said the drug can be given to patients who have oxygen saturation levels below 94 percent.

The HSA said, “To optimize the use of remdesivir in COVID-19 management, HSA is working with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and relevant experts to further define the subcategory of patients who are likely to benefit most from this medicine.”

“Although the data on its efficacy and safety is very limited at this point in time, HSA has expedited the review of remdesivir given the urgent public health need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.

Gilead has an office in Singapore, which will collect the safety and efficacy data of the drug as part of the conditional approval.

The HSA said, “Singapore is among the earliest countries to grant an approval for the medicine.”

Apart from remdesivir, researchers have been studying other drugs, such as lopinavir and ritonavir, to treat COVID-19 patients in Singapore.

Earlier, Dr. Shawn Vasoo, director at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), Singapore, told Channel News Asia (CNA), “While there were ‘no proven therapies’ for the coronavirus, remdesivir was among the drugs trialed as a possible treatment for COVID-19 patients.”

Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has described remdesivir as the most promising therapy against coronavirus.

In May, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Emergency Use Authorization of remdesivir for critically ill COVID-19 patients. Japan has also approved the use of this antiviral drug. 

In April, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said a global clinical trial of about 1,000 patients showed that remdesivir had a “clear-cut, significant, positive effect” in COVID-19 patients’ recovery time. However, a trial of the same drug in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic, showed no benefits in terms of mortality or recovery times for coronavirus patients. The trial had to be stopped prematurely because it failed to get enough patients.