- With no specific treatment, physicians worldwide are using existing antiviral treatments or FDA-approved emergency use authorization (EUA) drugs to cure millions affected by COVID-19.
- Companies and university research teams across the world are developing hundreds of vaccines and drugs which are currently in clinical and pre-clinical stages and set to enter the market starting the first quarter of 2021.
- While vaccines build up community health, they are not 100% effective. Vaccination rate per country also varies. This is creating an earnest need for prescribed medicines to beat the novel coronavirus holistically.
According to WHO data, as on 29 May 2020 (at 7:02 PM CEST), there were more than 5.7 million confirmed cases, and over 357k deaths recorded worldwide. COVID-19 has taken lives, shut down economies, and has made people cocooned to their respective homes. However, for the healthcare sector, COVID-19 has presented one of the most significant financial opportunities. What the world currently needs is a potent medicine for treating the virus or an effective vaccine to prevent COVID-19 from affecting people. The struggle lies whether to create a treatment or develop a vaccine. Let’s dig dipper on this situation.
COVID-19 and its current treatments
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 acts as a “pneumonia-like” illness as it creates shortness of breath affecting lungs. However, over time, it has been found that the virus affects the other organs as well, such as kidneys, liver, skin, and brain. At present, the treatments primarily consist of existing antivirals or drugs approved for other indications. Doctors are also using EUA drugs to treat people suffering from SARS-CoV-2 induced disease. A EUA or emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows doctors to use the drug for medication without following proper FDA approval process.
Currently, the FDA has assigned emergency use authorization (EUA) to three drugs – Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine indicated for Malaria, remdesivir indicated for Viral and a sedation drug to be used with FDA.
- According to research done by the University of Alberta, Canada with Gilead Sciences, remdesivir prevents the virus from replicating. Clinical trials from Gilead Sciences showed mixed results with one trial getting terminated while the other meeting its endpoint.
- Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine received a EUA from the FDA. However, clinical trials have shown mixed results prompting WHO to stop the clinical trials on account of the safety of people. FDA also issued a warning against the usage of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as they cause heart-rhythm problems. FDA has disallowed use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine outside of medical facilities.
Sorrento Therapeutics (NASDAQ:SRNE) recently announced that it had developed an antibody drug that had shown positive results in early testing by blocking the COVID-19 strain. According to the company, the drug can be used for treatment as well as to prevent infection.
In Australia, many companies are developing COVID-19 treatments using various platforms
Cancer biotech Noxopharm (ASX:NOX) has submitted a pre-IND (Investigational New Drug) for Veyonda clinical trial for treating inflammation caused by COVID-19. Antiviral condom lube maker Starpharma (ASX:SPL) claimed its active ingredient acted positively against COVID-19 infection in the lab. However, the efficacy and safety of the drugs still need to be ensured. And hence, there is a delay in proper approved treatments entering the markets.
According to industry experts, COVID-19 is expected to become a seasonal disease every year, making treatments an essential need, and thus, a viable opportunity for pharmaceutical and biotech companies to invest in developing the treatment.
While treatment is the need of the hour, vaccines will go a long way
A vaccine protects people to build immunity against an antibody – or SARS-CoV-2 in case of COVID-19. A virus will have no effect on vaccinated people. According to WHO, as on 27 May 2020, there are 10 COVID-19 vaccine candidates under clinical assessment and 115 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical stage.
Currently, Moderna Inc (NASDAQ:MRNA) is testing its messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine in a phase I clinical trial in Seattle, Washington. Moderna is expected to start a phase II study of its vaccine in May 2020 and a phase III clinical trial in July. FDA has agreed to fast-track review upon phase III clinical trial success of the vaccine.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc (NASDAQ:INO) has also quickly developed a potential vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 with phase I clinical trial enrollment completed in late April. The company is expected to start a phase II/III clinical trial in the summer.
The University of Queensland in Australia has a research team which is developing a vaccine by growing viral proteins in cell cultures. The group began pre-clinical testing stages in early April. Pharmaceutical companies, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are also developing vaccines of their own.
However, according to the director of NIH, Dr Anthony Fauci, a vaccine meant for widespread use will take almost 12 to 18 months to enter the market.
Medicines and vaccines reside side by side. COVID-19 has presented the healthcare sector with an opportunity to serve the people worldwide and rake in big money by creating the right medicine for the treatment of the coronavirus disease, or by developing an effective vaccine to prevent it from affecting people. As per UNICEF Australia, vaccines do assist in building up public health and bring down death rates stemming from various diseases. However, vaccines are not 100% effective, and the vaccination rate per country also varies, creating an earnest need for prescribed medicines to beat the novel coronavirus.
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