Stock markets fell today after a promising drug that experts hoped would become a breakthrough treatment for coronavirus flopped in its first key trial.
The FTSE 100 index of Britain’s largest companies dropped by 86 points or 1.48 per cent to 5,740 this morning – the US Dow also dipped slightly.
It came after the antiviral drug remdesivir, originally developed for Ebola, failed to help severely ill COVID-19 patients in its first clinical trial.
California-based Gilead said the findings were inconclusive because the study was terminated early but investors said the market was ‘rattled’.
Draft documents published accidentally by the World Health Organization showed it did not improve patients’ condition or even cut levels of the virus in the blood.
According to the manuscript the drug also caused significant side effects, meaning 18 of 158 patients had to be taken off the treatment.
Gilead insisted the study was abandoned because it only recruited 237 participants and was ‘underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions’.
Questions were today raised over three other promising drugs, including one touted by the US President Donald Trump as a ‘game changer’.
Experts found the death rate was twice as high in patients given hydroxychloroquine – branded as Plaquenil, compared to those given no medication.
Two other drugs, HIV combination lopinavir/ritonavir and an antiviral called Arbidol, had no effect on hospitalised patients, according to a separate study.
The FTSE 100 index dropped today following a rollercoaster fortnight, as displayed above
According to the documents, seen by the Financial Times, the drug also resulted in significant side effects, meaning 18 of 158 patients had to be taken off the treatment.
Gilead insisted the study had been abandoned because it had only recruited 237 participants and was ‘underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions’.
Investors in London also worried about delays to an agreement on divisive details of the EU’s stimulus package, and data showing UK retail sales crashed in March.
In Britain, millions of key workers and their households can now get Covid-19 tests as the Government races to meet its 100,000 daily target by the end of next week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people whose work is critical to the pandemic response, and those they live with, can register for a test if they have symptoms.
A vial of the drug Remdesivir is seen at a press conference in Hamburg, Germany on April 8
The announcement came as researchers at the University of Oxford began human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine candidate.
Market sensitivity to news related to Covid-19 medical treatment reflected traders’ desperation for a sign of when the global economy might start returning to normal.
Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at New York-based wealth management firm Inverness Counsel, said: ‘Any piece of bad news is likely to rattle the market.
‘Investors are keen for a semblance of hope that they can soon crawl out of their homes and get on with some form of normal life, even if with trepidation and fear.’
U.S. stock futures were down 0.7 per cent this morning after the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq turned negative at the close yesterday.
The headquarters of Gilead Sciences are pictured at Foster City in California on April 17
Francois Savary, Prime Partners chief investment officer, said: ‘Its a negative session. The market for the last week has been under consolidation after a strong rally.
‘A lot of good news has already been priced in and news that the number of deaths had increased in the US was also a warning sign for investors.’
EU leaders agreed yesterday to build a trillion euro emergency fund to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic but leaving divisive details until the summer.
French President Emmanuel Macron said EU governments still disagreed over whether the fund should be transferring grant money, or simply making loans.
Alain Durre at Goldman Sachs said: ‘The risk exists that a concrete decision on the creation of the recovery fund may not occur before September, thereby not being operational before early 2021.’
The ‘Fearless Girl’ statue wears a face mask with US flags outside the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street yesterday
US business activity fell to record lows in April, mirroring dire figures from Europe as stay-at-home orders crushed production, supply chains and consumer spending.
The US House of Representatives yesterday passed a $484billion bill to expand federal loans to small businesses and hospitals overwhelmed by patients.
President Donald Trump, who has indicated he will sign the bill, said last night that he may need to extend social distancing guidelines to early summer.
In Japan, shares in the Nikkei stock index slid 0.84 per cent amid lingering concern about the spread of infections before the Golden Week public holidays.
Shares in South Korea, which has won recognition for its aggressive measures to contain the coronavirus, fell 1.11 per cent. Australian shares bucked the trend, rising 0.71 per cent due to gains in the energy and resources sector.
Oil prices extended a tentative rebound from a price collapse this week that pushed US crude futures into negative for the first time ever.
But investors remain concerned about weak energy demand and excess supplies of crude. US crude ticked up 4.85 per cent to $17.30 a barrel.
The outlook remains dim because global energy demand has evaporated due to business closures and travel curbs aimed at slowing the pandemic. In addition, some countries are running out of space to store the crude oil that they are not using.