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U.S. Public Health Service Strike Team Helps Treat Patients Infected with COVID-19 in Japan

Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Contact: ASH Media Office

 A team of specialized officers from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps are working with the United States Embassy in Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and Gilead Sciences Inc. to provide compassionate access use of an investigational antiviral treatment for severely ill patients in Japan who have COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

The investigational antiviral treatment, remdesivir, was previously tested in humans with Ebola virus disease and has shown promise in animal studies as a possible treatment for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which are caused by other coronaviruses.

This specialized team of Commissioned Corps officers, with clinical, scientific, international and public health backgrounds, deployed on February 15 to Japan to assist in the management of hospitalized United States citizens with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Their mission is to identify seriously and critically ill patients for enrollment in a compassionate use trial so that patients with viral pneumonia could receive treatment with remdesivir, an investigational antiviral treatment developed by Gilead Sciences Inc.

“As America’s Health Responders, our Commissioned Corps officers stand ready to deploy at a moment’s notice to preserve public health and national security during national and global public health emergencies,” said the head of the service, Adm Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health. “These officers are bringing care, compassion, and hope to patients who are severely ill and suffering from this infectious disease.”

In a collaborative effort with Gilead Sciences Inc., the United States Embassy in Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Commissioned Corps officers deployed to facilitate the delivery of this new antiviral therapy to numerous critically ill American and Japanese citizens suffering from COVID-19.

Commissioned Corps officers deployed quickly to Japan to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving health crisis affecting more than 50 American citizens who became infected with COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship.

“The USPHS Strike Team coordinated a national and international multiagency operation, bringing the necessary constituents to the table to create a partnership that facilitated the rapid delivery of remdesivir to the sickest of the COVID-19 infected patients,” said the commanding officer of this mission, Rear Adm Richard Childs, M.D. “Remdesivir has shown promising preclinical antiviral activity against SARS-COV-2,  and we are hopeful that making this agent available to numerous American and Japanese patients who are severely ill with this virus will improve their chances of survival.”

As America’s Health Responders, the Commissioned Corps’ current missions related to coronavirus include supporting the return of American citizens from China and Japan; assisting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with airport screenings to monitor the health of travelers; working in the U.S. HHS Secretary’s Operations Center; working on a randomized control remdesivir clinical trial; and protecting the nation by deploying officers to land ports of entry to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection with health screenings. More than 600 officers have deployed to date.

The USPHS Commissioned Corps is one of the eight uniformed services in the U.S. and is the only uniformed service committed to protecting, promoting and advancing the health and safety of the nation. They have served on the front lines in public health emergencies and crisis situations such as treating Ebola patients in West Africa, and providing care to individuals infected with Zika, SARS, and other emerging infections.

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Content created by Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH)
Content last reviewed on March 3, 2020