Dr. Scott Gottlieb sees antiviral remdesivir as best coronavirus treatment should Trump need one

Key Points
  • White House doctors are "probably considering" remdesivir for President Donald Trump, the former FDA chief told CNBC on Friday.
  • "Remdesivir is indicated for hospitalized patients. But there is thinking that it probably improves outcomes" when given earlier, Gottlieb said.
  • Trump tweeted at 12:54 a.m. ET that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Vice President Mike Pence and the second lady, Karen Pence, tested negative for coronavirus. 
Dr. Scott Gottlieb: Trump's doctors may be considering remdesivir
Dr. Scott Gottlieb: Trump's doctors may be considering remdesivir

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA chief in the Trump administration, told CNBC on Friday that White House doctors are "probably considering" whether to give President Donald Trump remdesivir, Gilead Sciences' the antiviral drug approved for treating Covid-19 under emergency use authorization.

"Remdesivir is indicated for hospitalized patients. But there is thinking that it probably improves outcomes earlier it is introduced in the course of the disease," Gottlieb said in a "Squawk Box" interview.

The main question on how to proceed now that the president, first lady Melania Trump and White House advisor Hope Hicks tested positive for coronavirus is whether they are exhibiting symptoms, Gottlieb said before the New York Times reported Friday morning that the president is said to be exhibiting some mild symptoms.

Trump, 74, tweeted  at 12:54 a.m. ET that he and the 50-year-old first lady tested positive for Covid-19, hours after the president said he would begin a quarantine process after the 31-year-old Hicks' positive test.

The president and first lady are "both well" at the moment, according to a statement from White House physician Dr. Sean Conley, released shortly after the president's tweet. Conley also wrote that he expects Trump to "continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering."

"They all have a good chance of doing well. [Trump] was previously in good health by all reports and will get excellent care," Gottlieb said.

However, Gottlieb said, "The president is in a high-risk group simply by virtue of his age, 74. He's also reported to be overweight."

Gottlieb said the White House is likely to "cast a wide net" on tracing whom the president came into contact. "I wouldn't be surprised if they tested the whole compound today, and brought in some different testing equipment so they can get a more sensitive result," he said.

The goal will also be to protect Vice President Mike Pence, Gottlieb said. Pence and the second lady, Karen Pence, tested negative, the White House announced Friday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also tested negative on Friday morning.

The vice president is next in line to the presidency, followed by the speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and Senate president pro tempore, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Trump is scheduled to appear at the second presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Oct. 15 — just 13 days after he revealed his diagnosis. During their first debate Tuesday night, the president, generally eschewing mask-wearing and downplaying the virus, mocked Biden for wearing masks.

The president's positive test underscores how widespread and contagious the coronavirus is, Gottlieb said. The "bottom line message" is everyone is vulnerable, Gottlieb said.

How Americans view the virus given Trump's diagnosis depends on his condition — if Trump gets sick, people could get the message of the severity of the disease, Gottlieb said.

However, if Trump does not exhibit any symptoms, it could "cut the other way" and people could view the virus is not that bad, Gottlieb said.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted Friday morning: "Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family." Biden made no mention of whether he was tested in the tweet.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. Pfizer has a manufacturing agreement with Gilead for remdesivir. Gottlieb also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean's "Healthy Sail Panel."