The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic poses a unique challenge for healthcare providers. There are no approved treatments for this disease, nor are there any approved vaccines.
That’s put big drug companies, universities and biotech startups on the hot seat. Since the 2003 outbreak of SARS, another variety of deadly coronavirus, they’ve been researching ways to handle diseases that can be produced by this family of viruses. When a coronavirus is capable of infecting humans, it typically attacks the respiratory system, which can make them particularly deadly.
It usually takes about 10 to 15 years to develop a vaccine. The good news: leaps in technology, such as the ability to rapidly sequence virus genomes and to create vaccines out of messenger RNA, are speeding up the process of development. Developing new drug treatments can also take time – about a decade from discovery to getting on the market. But here technology also provides an advantage: new types of antiviral drugs and immunotherapy treatments, can treat a wide range of diseases. Which means that drugs already in the development pipeline or already treating diseases in patients could be useful to fight COVID-19, shortening the time it will take to make an effective medicine.
On this page, we’ll be tracking and regularly updating the development of new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, from research to testing to commercial release.
How close are we to finding treatments for the current outbreak?
For the past few years, Foster City, California-based Gilead has been developing Remdesivir, an anti-viral that’s shown promising results in lab and animal studies against SARS, MERS, Ebola and other infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The company has initiated clinical trials in the U.S. and China to see if the drug can be effective against the new coronavirus, and also working with governments to provide the drug as an emergency treatment in the absence of other options.
Status: Large-scale human testing
Of note: A World Health Organization assessment from February described remdesivir as the “most promising candidate” against COVID-19.
AbbVie manufactures the co-formulation lopinavir/ritonavir, which is used to treat HIV. It’s currently collaborating with health authorities to see if it can be used as a treatment against COVID-19, based on unconfirmed reports in China that its use was helpful in combating it. It has provided the drug to several countries, including China, as an experimental option.
Status: Working with health authorities such as the CDC, WHO, and the National Institutes of Health regarding testing.
Cambridge, MA-based biotech startup Moderna has developed a potential mRNA vaccine against COVID-19. The vaccine was developed in collaboration with scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The vaccine works by getting the immune system to develop antibodies against a “spike protein” found on the virus. A batch of the vaccine has been manufactured and delivered to the NIAID for a first round of testing.
Status: Phase 1 testing
Of note: The vaccine was developed, manufactured and sent out for testing just 42 days after the coronavirus DNA sequence was first published.
Johnson & Johnson
Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has partnered with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal agency that helps develop countermeasures to biological threats, to develop potential vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. The company is working to identify molecules in its libraries that might be effective against the disease. It’s also leveraging technologies that were used to successfully develop an ebola vaccine towards finding promising vaccine candidates.
Status: Investigation and development
Of note: In addition to looking at new therapies, Johnson & Johnson has sent batches of its HIV drug darunavir/cobicistat to China to test its efficacy against COVID-19.
Indiana-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced that it is partnering with Vancouver-based biotech firm AbCellera to co-develop antibody-based treatments against COVID-19. The firms have already discovered “hundreds” of antibodies that might be effective against the disease, with the next step being to screen those for the most effective treatment candidate.
Status: Screening antibody candidates to move to testing phase
Of note: “In 11 days, we’ve discovered hundreds of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the current outbreak,” AbCellera CEO Carl Hansen said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Pfizer announced that it had discovered several promising antiviral molecules that stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from reproducing in cells in the lab. The candidates are currently being screened to identify the best candidates to move into the development pipeline. The company’s Chief Science Officer, Mikael Dolsten, noted that the company might also consider exploring the combination of these molecules with antiviral treatments developed by other firms.
Status: Early development
Of note: On Friday, the company announced that part of its plan to combat COVID-19 would be sharing its expertise with smaller biotech companies and committed to using its excess manufacturing capacity to scale up any approved therapy or vaccine.
GSK has previously developed a pandemic vaccine adjuvant platform, a system that helps to improve vaccines by strengthening the immune response in patients who receive it. In February, the company announced it was partnering with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to use that platform to improve potential vaccines to the new coronavirus. As part of that collaboration, it signed an agreement with the University of Queensland, Australia, which is developing a potential vaccine. GSK has also partnered with Chinese pharmaceutical company Clover to use its adjuvant platform with that company’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Status: Vaccines are still in early testing