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Declared as a pandemic, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the globe with around 3,41,722 cases, and approximately 14,765 deaths, as on 23 March 2020 (AEDT 8:51 PM). Amid the scare, cities have been locked down, economies are dwindling, global stock market is plummeting, countries sealing borders, people are panic buying – all that is stealing the headlines over the past few weeks that not only needs urgent attention but also appropriate action. With the recent set back of a potential coronavirus drug, Kaletra, failing to deliver favourable results in one of the first coronavirus trials on critically ill patients, there is no proven drug treatment for the novel virus.

However, several biotech companies around the world are racing with a hope to discover cure for the deadly COVID-19 virus. Companies like Gilead Sciences, Inovio Pharaceuticals, Altimmune, Novavax’s to name a few have been engaged in vaccine development plan.

Three firms specialised in messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutic have made recent progress pertaining to vaccine development and have been in the limelight for their promise.

  • BioNTech: German biotech company, BioNTech announced 2 strategic partnerships to advance vaccine development
  • CureVac: An unlisted German company, CureVac also targeting commencement of testing an experimental vaccine on humans in summer
  • Moderna – Massachusetts-headquartered biotech company kicked off its 1st trial recently in Seattle, Washington.

A Ray of Hope – WHO to Launch Multinational Trial for Potential Coronavirus Therapies

In this tough time of pandemic where nearly 15% of COVID-19 patients are suffering from serious disease and hospitals being overwhelmed, treatments are urgently required. A new vaccine development from scratch may take years to develop and test, therefore scientists and public health agencies are exploring repurposing of drugs that are already approved and found successful for other diseases and proven safe, in addition to the unapproved drugs that have performed well in animal studies with the other 2 deadly coronaviruses causing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

In view of this, the World Health Organization declared recently, the launch of a multi-arm, multi-national clinical trial to find potential cure for coronavirus. This initiative is a part of an aggressive attempt to kickstart the global hunt for treatments/drugs to treat Covid-19, with 10 countries already signaled to take part in the trial. It was further revealed that 4 drugs or drug combinations that have already given the license and are being used for treating other ailments will be tested, as stated by Mr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO.

The four drugs, all have demonstrated some proof of efficacy against SARS-CoV 2 virus-the main causative agent of Covid-19, either in vitro and/or animal studies, to be investigated are-

  1. Antiviral drug remdesivir which is a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir (2 HIV drugs).
  2. Lopinavir
  3. Ritonavir coupled with interferon beta
  4. Chloroquine- an antimalarial drug

COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund

To raise money from several donors to underpin WHO & its collaborators’ work helping nations act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO has set up a Solidarity Response Fund. This first-of-its-kind fund has been established by the United Nations Foundation & the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, jointly with WHO, enabling private individuals, organizations & foundations across the globe to come together to directly participate and contribute to global response efforts. Over 173,000 individuals and organisations have contributed over US$ 43 million.

Furthermore, the Director-General WHO conveyed appreciation to FIFA for its contribution of US$10 million. On 18 March 2020, Director-General WHO, remarked-

Few nations that have already registered include-

  • Canada
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • France
  • Iran
  • Norway
  • Thailand
  • Argentina
  • Bahrain

Japanese flu drug seems effective against coronavirus in Chinese clinical trials

Another positive news amid the global pandemic bringing hope relates to the Japanese-flu’s drug favipiravir (also known as Avigan). The drug has been investigated by Chinese medical authorities in clinical trials involving a total of 340 COVID-19 affected patients in both Wuhan and Shenzhen. The results obtained demonstrated that favipiravir has been found effective against the deadly disease in reducing the duration of the COVID-19 virus in patients from eleven days to four, and in improving the lung conditions of nearly 91% of patients those who received treatment with favipiravir in comparison to 62 % for those without among the trial participants.

However, additional clinical analysis is required for any approvals for use of favipiravir followed by authorisation of extensive use by relevant medical treatment regulating body of each country.

Meanwhile, In Australia also, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (RBWH) Foundation has established the Coronavirus Action Fund aiming to raise funds worth approximately $750,000 for clinical studies, medical research, equipments for hospitals and for better understanding and developing a treatment for COVID-19.

Several other potential drugs that are under the process of development are-

Intranasal Coronavirus Vaccine developed by Altimmune: Altimmune, US-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company is creating an intranasal single-dose vaccine for COVID-19 with animal testing is yet to begin.

APN01 by APEIRON Biologics: Professor at the University of British Columbia conducted research on a drug for treating SARS. APEIRON Biologics developed a drug, based on which APEIRON Biologics has developed a drug named APN01, currently being tested in a phase 1 pilot trial in China as a treatment for Covid-19.

MERS COVID-19 Vaccine by Novavax: Novavax had developed a novel MERS coronavirus vaccine, after the 1st case of MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012, which is a key target for CPVID-19 vaccine development by CEPI as this is a priority disease for WHO.

Let’s have a look at some of the ASX-Listed Healthcare players engaged in the fight against COVID-19

  • Zoono Group Limited (ASX:ZNO): ZNO’s Z-71 Microbe Shield found 99.99% effective against COVID-19 according to as per the laboratory tests undertaken against COVID-19 surrogate known as the Feline Coronavirus (an accepted surrogate for COVID-19 being examined in laboratories globally for this purpose). ZNO last traded at $1.28 on 23 March 2020, declining by 9.8% compared to its last close.
  • Aeris Environmental Limited (ASX:AEI): The decontamination company, Aeris Environmental’s Sanitiser Can Kill Coronavirus in 60 Seconds, achieved 99.99% (4log) kill rate after 60 seconds of contact time which provides rapid deactivation of this virus. AEI last traded at $0.435 on 23 March 2020, falling down by 17.925% from its previous closing price.
  • Biotron Limited (ASX:BIT): Biotron, leveraging its biotechnology platform, is now focused on testing a select set of compounds to ease the COVID 19 predicament. BIT last traded at $0.068 on 23 March 2020, slipping by 13.924% from its last close.

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