Study: Remdesivir Effectively Stops Replication of the Coronavirus That Causes COVID-19

The antiviral drug remdesivir has been shown by researchers to effectively stop the replication mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, according to a new study.

The antiviral drug remdesivir has been shown by researchers to effectively stop the replication mechanism of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to a study published on April 13 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.1

The researchers at the University of Alberta who published this study also published the results of an analysis in February that demonstrated how the same drug worked against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, a coronavirus related to COVID-19.1

“We were optimistic that we would see the same results against the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said Matthias Götte, MSc, PhD, chair of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta, in a press release. “We obtained almost identical results as we reported previously with MERS, so we see that remdesivir is a very potent inhibitor for coronavirus polymerases.”2

The results of the study showed that the polymerase is the engine of the virus and is responsible for synthesizing the virus’ genome. Remdesivir works by targeting the polymerase, which stops the virus from spreading. The drug is able to do this by tricking the virus and mimicking its building blocks.1

“These coronavirus polymerases are sloppy, and they get fooled, so the inhibitor gets incorporated many times and the virus can no longer replicate,” Götte said in a press release.2

The results of this and previously published studies show that remdesivir can be classified as a direct-acting antiviral against SARS-CoV-2, Götte explained. This ability for direct action supports the success of those clinical trials on patients with COVID-19 that are currently underway around the world. However, these results cannot predict how the drug will work on people conclusively, according to the study authors.1

“We've got to be patient and wait for the results of the randomized clinical trials,” Götte said.2

The researchers on Götte’s team had previously worked on HIV and

hepatitis C virus

but switched to focus on viruses with a higher epidemic potential after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued its list of top pathogens likely to cause severe outbreaks in 2015. This list included Ebola, Lassa, and coronaviruses.2

“In that sense we were prepared because my lab specializes in viral polymerases,” Götte said in a press release, adding that the next step will be to conduct research into other promising antivirals.2

The WHO has fast-tracked remdesivir into clinical trials and is among several drugs being compared as potential treatments for hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a dozen countries.1

Götte said that he is optimistic that the unprecedented amount of research going on worldwide will lead to the discovery of one or more effective treatments for COVID-19, and he expects that results from important clinical trials will be available as early as April or May.2


  • Gordon CJ, Tchesnokov EP, Woolner E, et al. Remdesivir is a direct-acting antiviral that inhibits RNA-dependent RNA polymerase from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 with high potency. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2020. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013679.
  • Study finds remdesivir effective against a key enzyme of coronavirus that causes COVID-19: Remdesivir already in human trials in search for treatment of deadly disease [news release]. ScienceDaily; April 13, 2020. Accessed April 14, 2020.