OTTAWA — Health Canada has approved the use of remdesivir to treat patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19.
The federal agency says the antiviral drug may be used to treat patients who have pneumonia and require extra oxygen to help them breathe.
It's the first drug that Health Canada has authorized for the treatment of COVID-19. Health Canada approved its use in adults and adolescents.
Remdesivir, which has been shown to shorten hospital stays, is administered intravenously and will be used only on patients that can be closely monitored.
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said use of the drug requires close medical supervision.
"Some of the range of side effects could involve other organs such as the liver," Tam said Tuesday.
"Health Canada has actually reviewed all this information and determined that the benefits outweigh the risk of the side effects. But again this is not a drug that you use as an outpatient. You have to be in a hospital setting where someone can monitor all that."
Until now, a small number of patients have been treated with remdesivir in Canada under a special access program.
The drug has also been granted emergency or conditional authorization in the United States, Europe, Japan, Singapore and Australia.
Two clinical trials authorized by Health Canada are ongoing to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of remdesivir.
Remdesivir is sold under the brand name Veklury and manufactured by Gilead Sciences Canada.
Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada is talking to the manufacturer about securing a Canadian supply, but admitted "supply is very limited globally from this company."
"Those discussions are taking place right now. I think the company will begin to accelerate its capacity but the bottom line is that the supply is not plentiful."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.
The Canadian Press