The anti-viral drug remdesivir, developed by US giant Gilead, has been added by South Korea to guidelines for treating Covid-19 patients, while the affordable steroid dexamethasone has been given the cold shoulder.

Remdesivir, which was originally created to treat hepatitis C and unsuccessfully pushed as an anti-Ebola medication, has been given the green light by South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. The drug will now be used for the treatment of Covid-19 patients, in line with updated national guidelines.

The ministry has also cautioned against the steroid dexamethasone, saying during a Friday press briefing that the drug should be used with special care.

“It seems appropriate to limit it to severe cases with acute respiratory syndrome, as the doctor monitors the patient’s condition,” Kim Young-ok, director general of the ministry’s pharmaceutical safety bureau, said, as cited by Reuters.

Several studies, including one in South Korea, have shown that dexamethasone can reduce deaths in seriously ill coronavirus patients. The drug first developed in the late 1950s, is widely available throughout the world, but long-term treatment may cause side-effects such as muscle weakness and bone-density loss.

The newer drug, remdesivir, was developed in 2009 and has been proposed as a treatment for several viral diseases, including, most recently, Covid-19, with small-scale studies in several countries yielding conflicting results. South Korea issued an emergency permit for import of the drug earlier this month, for the purposes of national evaluation.

Skeptics say remdesivir may have limited efficacy in Asian patients, as the trial in the US, where it was shown to boost recovery from Covid-19, involved mostly Caucasian patients.

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