(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 7-9)
SEOUL, July 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea administered remdesivir, an experimental drug conventionally used for Ebola, for two patients infected with the new coronavirus for the first time on Thursday, health authorities said.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said earlier that the medication developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences Inc. will be used for COVID-19 patients in critical condition.
"There have been applications (seeking remdesivir use) for two coronavirus patients. Remdesivir will be provided after review," KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Joon-wook said in a daily briefing earlier in the day.
Coronavirus patients who need oxygen treatment, such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), will be administered the drug, the KCDC noted.
South Korea's drug safety watchdog approved the use of remdesivir as a treatment drug for COVID-19 in June, allowing the drug's special importation.
The first batch of antiviral drugs was donated by Gilead Science. The KCDC plans to begin talks to purchase more next month, with details of the imported amount and price not to be disclosed.
Gilead Sciences earlier announced it will provide remdesivir at US$390 per vial for direct purchases by the United States and other developed countries.
COVID-19 patients here will not pay for the drug, as the country covers the cost of treating the highly infectious disease under the related law.
Coronavirus patients are usually given six vials of remdesivir over five days, which amounts to $2,340 per patient for a typical regimen. If necessary, the drug can be administered for another five days.
Remdesivir is the first medication shown to have a therapeutic effect on coronavirus patients since there is no scientifically proven treatment and no vaccine for the deadly illness.
South Korea added 54 cases on Thursday, including 44 local infections, raising the total caseload to 12,904, according to the KCDC.