Josie and George Taylor, 74 and 76 respectively, have been married for almost 52 years and most recently faced one of their biggest challenges in over half a century: COVID-19. After the two recovered while at EvergreenHealth medical center, they were approached by a physician to join a clinical trial for an experimental drug called that will help experts learn to treat the devastating infection they both were battling. The Taylor’s agreed and they have come through the other side, representing two of the first patients treated in a major National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases clinical trial targeting the drug remdesivir.
‘We Must do What we Can’
The Taylor’s epitomize one of two groups of warriors taking on COVID-19 in battle. They are the patient,s and they are complimented by the other group of fierce warriors known as the medical and health professionals. Mrs. Taylor (Josie) recalled when asked about joining the study: “My answer was absolutely yes,” continuing, “My feeling was anything I can do to help. Even if you’re stuck in an isolation room, this is affecting so many people and we have to do everything we can.”
Did the Clinical Trial Save Them?
As noted by JoNel Aleccia writing for Kaiser Health News, the Taylor’s finally made it back to their nice tidy white house in Everett, WA—tired and worn and thankful to be alive after weeks of COVID-19 infection and a clinical trial. The Taylor’s were among the first participants in the United States to recover from COVID-19 after participating in the NIAID (NIH)-funded clinical trial assessing remdesivir, the antiviral drug made by Gilead Sciences. JoNel’s full story should be read at Kaiser Health News here.
“Pray that you got the Drug”
When her and her husband were very ill, isolated and fighting for perhaps life, Josie Taylor shot straight from the heart—or perhaps the soul—when declaring to Kaiser Health News, “You pray that you got the drug.” Mrs. Taylor continued, also that she surely hopes the reason why they lived is because they in fact, did receive that study drug.
A Blinded Study
Of course, the Taylor’s won’t know if they received remdesivir—nor does their physician heading the clinical trial conducted at the Kirkland, Washington, health center—a charismatic, good-looking and experienced 41-year old Dr. Diego Lopez de Castilla. The couple nor the investigator can know if they received injections of remdesivir or a placebo. That is for the study sponsor’s data safety monitoring board (DSMB) to assess.
The Clinical Trial
Moreover, the parties—subject or investigator– cannot know if the investigational drug was actually effective at halting the disease. Although there are now many remdesivir studies ongoing in the United States and China, for example, the answers won’t be out for a while; perhaps by the end of April some data can surface.
The Study, again sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases or NIAID is expected to enroll 440 patients across 75 sites. An adaptive study, the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluates the safety and efficacy of remdesivir. The Taylor’s saw principal investigator Lopez de Castilla at the EvergreenHealth Infectious Disease Service site in Kirkland, Washington.
Kaiser Permanente reports that since February 21, 40 U.S. sites have joined the study. Lopez de Castilla’s team has enrolled among the most patients thus far—at least 20 since April 1, 2020.
Seven Ongoing Remdesivir Studies Worldwide
There are now seven studies in the U.S., China and Europe involving remdesivir and over 300 total clinical trials ongoing addressing some aspect of COVID-19.
Over 300 other Studies
These studies involve the anti-malarial drug touted by President Donald Trump (hydroxychloroquine/chloroquine) to drugs targeting rheumatoid arthritis and even experimental regenerative technology in China.
Back to Washington State
Nobody knows yet what drug works—whether there is any hidden dangers or benefits for that matter—but the hope is that there will be sufficient data in April to determine if there are some evidence-based benefits. Dr. Lopez de Castilla, the investigator of the Taylors’ trial, commented, “I don’t think we have enough data to be commenting.” Continuing, he said, “I think it’s very premature. We’re still enrolling patients in the trial.”
The demand for the drug is “overwhelming,” reports Gilead and the company can no longer offer it on an individual compassionate use basis to those patients not enrolled in clinical trial.
The Study Site: EvergreenHealth
EvergreenHealth was formed in 1972 as a public hospital district and now serves nearly 850,000 residents in the service area in north King and Snohomish counties. The provider, which employs about 4,500, is an integrated two-hospital healthcare system offering a breadth of services and programs that are, according to their website, among the most comprehensive in the region. They have been recognized by Healthgrades as one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for the past four years (2017-2020), reports Kaiser Health News. Leapfrog Group listed them as a Top General Hospital in 2019. The main campus includes a 318-bed medical center and four medical specialty buildings. The provider also expanded in 2015 to include EvergreenHealth Monroe, an accredited full-service 72-bed hospital.
With 70 clinical specialties, from primary care to specialty care, they also offer the infectious disease services.
Infectious Disease Services
EvergreenHealth Infectious Disease Services is the actual clinical investigational site for the NIAID-funded remdesivir study. The study team (and the infectious disease services unit) is led by Dr. Diego Lopez de Castilla, originally from Peru, who did his residency at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and infectious disease study fellowship at the University of Washington, Seattle. Along with the Taylor’s, Dr. Lopez de Castilla and the medical and support staff at EvergreenHealth represent the heroes on the front lines taking on COVID-19.
The Taylor’s although getting up there in age are doing much better now and are to be commended as heroes. Why? Because we are in a war. Josie, a former elementary school teacher who volunteers for social causes, noted that participating in the trial was an easy thing to do. Of course, she assessed the situation but it made sense. Her husband George was in a war before—the Vietnam War—and years later worked for a bank. Mr. Taylor has grappled with other health care issues. The fact that both of them contracted SARS-CoV-2 was a scary thing, and it was almost a surreal experience that they both happened to be in isolation in adjacent rooms in a way that saved them from the horrific plight faced by may people that are now dying—alone in isolation. That is what this enemy called COVID-19 can do its hosts, and that is us. It can force us into an isolation unit where we die from a cytokine storm eventually wearing out our lungs and other vital organs. It represents an incredibly scary proposition for many of us.
The Taylor’s faced the enemy called COVID-19 and have come out the other side to wonderful support from family, friends and even neighbors they barely knew before who actually mowed their lawn for them. And importantly, their life path crossed with a charismatic, Peruvian-American physician and clinical investigator who continues to battle the enemy pathogen on a daily basis. The Taylors met Dr. Lopez de Castilla, and they did the study together—that was what mattered.
Call to Action: Remember, the patients enrolling in clinical trials and the medical professionals—from doctors and nurses to clinical coordinators and assistants—are the heroes of this story. They are the front lines of this war against COVID-19. Let’s make sure we support them at every level. Also, make sure to read JoNel Aleccia underlying story for Kaiser Health News.