Why Remdesivir Failed: Preclinical Assumptions Overestimate the Clinical Efficacy of Remdesivir for COVID-19 and Ebola

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2021 Sep 17;65(10):e0111721. doi: 10.1128/AAC.01117-21. Epub 2021 Jul 12.


Remdesivir is a nucleoside monophosphoramidate prodrug that has been FDA approved for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, the clinical efficacy of remdesivir for COVID-19 remains contentious, as several trials have not found statistically significant differences in either time to clinical improvement or mortality between remdesivir-treated and control groups. Similarly, the inability of remdesivir to provide a clinically significant benefit above other investigational agents in patients with Ebola contrasts with strong, curative preclinical data generated in rhesus macaque models. For both COVID-19 and Ebola, significant discordance between the robust preclinical data and remdesivir's lackluster clinical performance have left many puzzled. Here, we critically evaluate the assumptions of the models underlying remdesivir's promising preclinical data and show that such assumptions overpredict efficacy and minimize toxicity of remdesivir in humans. Had the limitations of in vitro drug efficacy testing and species differences in drug metabolism been considered, the underwhelming clinical performance of remdesivir for both COVID-19 and Ebola would have been fully anticipated.

Keywords: GS-441524; GS-5734; in vitro models; in vivo models; nonhuman primates; pharmacokinetics; prodrug; remdesivir.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Monophosphate / analogs & derivatives
  • Adenosine Monophosphate / therapeutic use
  • Alanine / analogs & derivatives
  • Alanine / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antiviral Agents
  • remdesivir
  • Adenosine Monophosphate
  • Alanine