Remdesivir. A successful failure?

How pharma companies such as Gilead are seeking to solve the new problem of Covid-19 offers inspiration and encouragement for innovators.

With early trial results indicating that Remdesivir can speed Covid-19 recovery the drug looks it will help many of those hospitalised. It may be a modest success but Remdesivir is set to be memorable case-study of a solution eventually finding its problem.

Remdesivir is a failed treatment for Ebola where trials found competing drugs more effective. But with laboratory tests indicating the potential to stop virus replication and existing safety data it is has been repurposed as a bet to beat Covid-19.

In fact, the global hunt for a compound to beat or at least slow Covid-19 is all about repurposed product experimentation. Alongside Remdesivir, antimalarial and HIV medications are being tested. Rheumatoid arthritis drugs are also being trialled based on their potential to reduce inflammatory responses in critically ill patients.

The pharma sector’s experimentation with old (and in the case of Remdesivir failed) solutions reminds us of the potential for past ideas to be successfully repurposed for new problems or audiences. Here’s some wider examples to hit home the point:

In 2014 Google Glass was seen as a disaster. It failed to address a real consumer problem and was a wearable people weren’t keen on wearing. The innovation however, has evolved into today’s ‘Enterprise Edition’ glasses which targets workers needing hands-free access to information. Six years on Google may have found an audience with the right problem.

Nespresso is another innovation that eventually found the right audience / problem. Initially targeting business customers it found huge consumer success a decade later.

Rogaine’s ingredient minoxidil is another fascinating pharma example. When first used to treat high blood pressure the drug resulted in unwanted hair growth. Global sales of minoxidil based products are now $1 billion.

Let’s hope more repurposed solutions for Covid-19 achieve positive results.

Successful or not, the pharmaceutical sector’s testing reminds us not to overlook old ideas and to embrace initial failure as a potential ‘learning detour’ towards bigger success.

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