Different versions of antiviral drug remdesivir are in development for the treatment of COVID-19. These versions include one that can be inhaled, as recent trials showed moderate effectiveness of the drug when administered by infusion.

On Monday, Gilead Sciences said in a statement that it was seeking to treat the coronavirus earlier by using remdesivir earlier in the course of the disease. Other antivirals like influenza pill Tamiflu have been found to work best when given as soon as a person becomes infected with the virus.

Gilead Sciences is also planning to create alternate formulations of remdesivir to treat COVID-19. In a recent interview, Gilead Sciences Chief Medical Officer Merdad Parsey and Chief Financial Officer Andrew Dickinson revealed their plans to explore a subcutaneous injection formulation of the antiviral drug, as well as dry powder versions that COVID-19 patients could inhale.

Parsey and Dickinson explained that remdesivir could not be given as a pill because it has content that would degenerate in the liver. The intravenous formulation of the drug is currently being used by hospitals but they are looking for versions that are easier to administer by outpatients.  

Gilead Sciences is studying how the existing IV formulation of remdesivir can be diluted so it can be administered via a nebulizer, a device used to administer drugs in the form of inhalable mist. According to the company, the idea is to make the antiviral drug more directly available to the upper airway and lung tissue, which the coronavirus is known to attack. The company also believes that an inhalable version of remdesivir would allow for early treatment of COVID-19 patients.

“People look forward to an inhaled formulation in time,” said analyst Michael Yee, although he said the development of this version is still “in the very early stages.” He also said the demand for this version might be limited as many COVID-19 patients require minimal treatment.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of remdesivir in treating COVID-19 patients. This was after a study run by the National Institutes of Health showed that the antiviral drug could reduce hospitalization stays of patients by 31 percent.

COVID-19 Coronavirus Drug - Remdesivir One vial of the drug Remdesivir lies during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany on April 8, 2020, amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. ULRICH PERREY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images