Big pharma races against time to cure COVID-19

    With the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) quickly rising from a regional crisis to a pandemic, large and small pharmaceutical companies race against the clock in coming up with the best ideas to cure the disease.

    Some have taken a cue from older antivirals. Some have tapped tried-and-tested technologies while others press forward with futuristic approaches to human medicine.

    At least a dozen of pharmaceutical companies have been working on vaccines, antivirals, and other treatments to help those infected with the fast-spreading virus. Some antivirals have gone through trials.

    One of the drug manufacturers, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., plans to select the two most potent antibodies and advance the cocktail into human studies by early summer. The last time Regeneron embarked on this process, during the Ebola outbreak of 2015, it came up with an antibody cocktail that roughly doubled survival rates for treated patients.

    Pfizer, in collaboration with BioNTech, has put out a five-point plan to address the outbreak, which includes making its technology, scientists, expertise, and manufacturing available to outside institutions. The company has also promised to create a rapid-response program to make it easier to respond to future pandemics.

    Sanofi, which has successfully developed vaccines for yellow fever and diphtheria, works with BARDA. Sanofi’s approach involves taking some of the coronavirus’s RNA and mixing it with genetic material from a harmless virus, creating a chimera that can prime the immune system without making patients sick. Sanofi expects to have a vaccine candidate to test in the lab within six months and could be ready to test a vaccine in people within a year to 18 months.

    Japanese pharma giant Takeda works on a treatment derived from the blood of people who have already been infected by the coronavirus. The company draws blood from coronavirus survivors, harvesting the plasma, and then isolating the protective antibodies that kept those patients alive. It’s not a new idea, though. Blood transfusions have been used to combat viral outbreaks since at least the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. But Takeda’s take on it could prove to be faster in development than other therapeutic approaches. According to the company, the therapy could be available to patients in 12 to 18 months.

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