- Drugmakers are racing to find effective treatments and vaccines to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
- While early vaccine research has been promising, in the absence of a highly effective vaccine, additional medications are needed to prevent and treat the virus.
- Among those in the works are antivirals, as well as treatments that harness the body’s immune system to go after the virus.
- Repurposed drugs like remdesivir have already been cleared for emergency use, while others like Regeneron’s antibody treatment are looking to be available by the fall.
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Drugmakers are racing to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of that, researchers are developing vaccines to prevent infections and repurposing existing medications to treat people with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Drug developers are also working on treatments to help fight the virus itself.
While early vaccine results have been promising, in the absence of a highly effective vaccine, treatments that help people who get infected with the novel coronavirus will be key.
For instance, influenza vaccine effectiveness can range from year to year, from relatively low effectiveness like 19% effective for the 2014-15 season to as much as 60% effectiveness in the 2010-11 season. When combating the flu, treatments like Tamiflu can be used to lessen symptoms and sometime act as a preventive measure.
One repurposed medication aimed at treating coronavirus infections has already been approved for emergency use. Others, too, have proven useful in combating some of the severe symptoms brought on by COVID-19 that have led to tens of thousands of hospitalizations. A slate of newly created medications are also currently being tested, and some could be approved as soon as this fall.
Read more: Drugmakers are racing to use existing medicines to fight the coronavirus. Here’s what you need to know about the 14 most promising medications being put to the test.
Drugmakers are repurposing antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19, and one has already been given emergency authorization
Antivirals work by targeting the virus to keep it from replicating in the body, bringing on more symptoms. Antivirals are used to treat the flu, as well HIV.
So far, one has been given emergency authorization: Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir. Study results have shown that the drug helped hospitalized patients with COVID-19 recover faster than those receiving a placebo. The Food and Drug Administration on May 1 issued an emergency authorization for the drug’s use.
Remdesivir isn’t the only repurposed antiviral being tested to treat COVID-19.
Another is Avigan, an influenza treatment and broad-spectrum antiviral drug made by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical. It’s not approved in the US.
The drug has been approved for use in COVID-19 in Russia and India, but plans for its approval in Japan by May fell short because there wasn’t enough evidence of how well it worked in treating the disease.
Read more: Gilead built a biotech colossus by treating viruses like HIV and hepatitis C. Now, it stands to make billions from the first effective coronavirus treatment.
Drugmakers are looking to have newly created drugs that prompt the body to fight the virus available by the fall
Researchers are also exploring an approach that uses the body’s immune reaction to viruses to lessen symptoms and potentially prevent people from getting sick in the first place.
The approach uses the body’s own disease-fighting proteins, called antibodies, as the basis for drugs. The hope with these treatments is to infuse the body with antibodies to fight the novel coronavirus, helping the body mount a better immune response.
Trials are ongoing from drugmakers Regeneron, Eli Lilly, and Celltrion to see if the treatments work both to stave off infection as well as to treat COVID-19 patients with moderate or severe illness.
Regeneron and Lilly are expecting results that make it clear whether or not the drugs work as soon as the fall.
Read more: An antibody treatment might be our best shot at stopping the coronavirus if a vaccine doesn’t work out. Here are the 9 leading programs, including 2 that are aiming to be ready this fall.
Treatments based on plasma offer another solution
One approach to treating coronavirus infections that’s already in use is convalescent plasma. That uses the blood of those who have recovered from the illness — specifically the antibodies they produced — to fight the virus.
It’s a treatment has been around for decades. Trials testing the benefit of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 are ongoing, with some early results suggesting some benefit.
Using convalescent plasma is constrained by blood donations. Drugmakers are also looking to make treatments based on more purified forms of plasma that can be used more widely.
The product, known as hyperimmune globulin, is made when scientists purify the plasma to focus on a specific type of antibody called IgG. Takeda, Japan’s largest pharmaceutical company, is working with a coalition of 10 drugmakers to develop the treatment.
An international trial of hyperimmune globulin is expected to start in July and wrap up in the fall, with the hopes of getting approval by the end of 2020.
Read more: Doctors are using the blood of coronavirus survivors to treat patients with the disease. Now, drugmakers are betting they can turn that into a drug.