Biotech companies in the race to seek COVID-19 cure

Declared as a global public health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 outbreak caused by the mysterious coronavirus began circulating in Wuhan city of China and has fast emerged as a global epidemic that has spread to 84 more countries apart from mainland China, raising alarm across the world, claiming lives of more than 3100 people with a large majority of deaths from China (including other countries like Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan, US, France, Australia, Spain, Philippines, Switzerland, San Marino, Thailand & Taiwan) and infecting approximately 96,500 people) till date.

As per WHO, for the novel coronavirus, the most recent death rate at a global scale is 3.4% which is higher than previous figures of around 2%. The death rate is expected to change further with more and more cases being verified every day, however specialists forecast that the percentage of deaths will decline in the longer term, as milder cases of COVID-19 are most likely to remain undiagnosed.

The need of the hour here is an effective cure to stop the deadly coronavirus from infecting a greater number of people. This has encouraged the entire biotech industry, including both pharmaceutical companies, as well as research institutes to develop novel coronavirus vaccines.

The development of safe and effective vaccines requires heaps of time, capital investment and efficient research. What is even more challenging is the development of vaccine that causes such fatal and rapidly transmitting disease. At least 30 companies and research organisations have joined the bandwagon to find the virus cure.

Entities a part of global race to find virus cure

While the global pandemic has pummeled the stock market, pharmaceutical companies are rushing to develop its vaccines and treatments. Companies like Gilead Sciences and Moderna have made progress in this direction in a short span of time offering glimmers of hope.

Gilead Sciences is currently leading the global race for Coronavirus vaccine hunt.

Gilead Sciences commenced studies with Investigational Antiviral Remdesivir for the COVID-19 treatment. In February, WHO noted that Gilead’s Remdesivir might be the only effective treatment so far for COVID-19.

On 26 February 2020, it announced initiation of 2 Phase 3 clinical studies evaluating its drug Remdesivir’s safety and efficacy in adults detected with COVID-19, post the US FDA’s speedy assessment and approval of Gilead’s investigational new drug (IND) application for Remdesivir for the COVID-19 treatment.

Gliead was already testing Remdesivir for treating coronavirus infection with 2 clinical trials undergoing in China’s Hubei province. As per China’s vice-minister of science and technology, Xu Nanping, the 1st Covid-19 vaccine in China is likely to be ready for clinical trials by the end of April.

Moderna Shipped Coronavirus Vaccine to US for Human Trial

Moderna is a developing biotechnology company with its revolutionary mRNA (messenger RNA) therapeutics & vaccines has a focus on development of a novel transformative medicines, has developed and released the 1st batch of a vaccine, namely mRNA-1273, against the novel coronavirus, for human use, in just 42 days. The vaccine vials were transported to NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) for a scheduled Phase 1 study in the United States.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals Collaborated with Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology to Develop Novel INO-4800

The two companies partnered to advance the development of Inovio Pharmaceuticals’ vaccine INO-4800, as a novel coronavirus vaccine with the pre-clinical testing for clinical product manufacturing has already begun backed by a $9 million grant from CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation).

Recently on 3 March, Inovio declared a faster timeline for the vaccine development. The company has planned three thousand doses for human clinical trials in thirty healthy volunteers to be initiated in April 2020 in the US, followed by China, and South Korea. Furthermore, Inovio is aiming to produce 1 million vaccine doses to perform additional clinical trials for emergency use by the 2020 end.

In parallel to this, Beijing Advaccine has scheduled a phase 1 clinical trial in China, by Beijing Advaccine, with the results expected to in September 2020.

CSL Limited Joined the Race to Fight COVID-19

ASX listed health care players and biotech giant CSL Limited (ASX: CSL) that recently got listed as one of the top 3 most valuable companies worldwide, has also joined the race to combat COVID-19.

In Australia, Queensland University was the first horse declared in the race for COVID-19 vaccine development, funded by CEPI.

CSL in a media statement unveiled that the company has united with Queensland University for its vaccine development program for COVID-19 in a contribution towards the global effort in combating the deadly illness. Worth noting is the fact that Coronavirus, being fairly distinct from influenza virus, is not a main focus area of CSL or Seqirus.

Other Vaccines under Development

Anti-Viral Drug Favilavir Approved for Coronavirus Treatment

The National Medical Products Administration of China has granted approval for using Favilavir, that has reportedly found effective against the disease with minimal side effects in a clinical trial being conducted in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, as COVID-19 treatment.

Altimmune Developed Intranasal Coronavirus Vaccine

US-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical - Altimmune is developing an intranasal vaccine for COVID-19, which is being designed & synthesised as the single-dose vaccine while animal testing is yet to begin. The vaccine is being developed based on Altimmune’s vaccine technology platform which is like an influenza vaccine NasoVAX.

Novavax’s MERS COVID-19 Vaccine

Back in 2013, Novavax has developed a novel MERS coronavirus vaccine when the first case of first MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is a key target for coronavirus vaccine development by CEPI while being a priority disease for WHO. Several nanoparticle vaccine candidates have been produced by Novavax for testing in animal models. The human trials are anticipated to begin in 2020.

APEIRON Biologics’ APN01

APEIRON Biologics developed a drug (based on research carried out by a professor at the University of British Columbia for treating SARS) named APN01 which is being examined in China as a treatment for Covid-19, in a phase 1 pilot trial.

MIGAL Research Institute’s Avian Coronavirus Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV) Vaccine

An IBV vaccine developed by the MIGAL Research Institute in Israel for the treatment of avian coronavirus has been genetically modified for COVID-19 treatment underpinned by demonstrated efficacy in pre-clinical trials carried out by the Volcani Institute. The vaccine will be available in oral form.

COVID-19 Vaccine by Vaxart

An oral recombinant vaccine in tablet formulation is being developed by Vaxart leveraging its patented VAAST platform.

In a nutshell, with new infections surging all across the world, foreshadowing another spike in an outbreak that was previously clustered in China, the urge to develop therapies and vaccines has taken on new importance globally.

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