Medical professionals and researchers around the world have been working overtime to develop effective treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus. ELEVATION has previously reported on several of these initiatives. Unfortunately, some of the drugs that showed early potential – notably hydroxychloroquine, which was enthusiastically promoted by President Trump – have not panned out. However, scores of other pharmaceutical options are currently in the development and trial phases.
Japan distributes Avigan
The Japanese anti-influenza drug Avigan has already shown promise in reducing the severity of COVID-19 outcomes in China. Based on the results, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on March 28 that his government would designate Avigan as Japan’s standard treatment for Covid-19.
The Japan Times now reports that authorities in Japan will begin distributing Avigan for free to 38 countries for testing on hospitalized patients. Health officials in the recipient countries will share the results of clinical testing in order to further assess the efficacy of the drug. The Japanese government is allocating approximately $130 million to produce enough Avigan to treat 2 million COVID-19 patients.
The Coronavirus Manhattan Project
A group of prominent scientists, industry leaders, and billionaires have formed a powerful coalition to fight back against the pandemic – this according to the Wall Street Journal. Spearheaded by Boston-based physician and venture capitalist, Tom Cahill, the effort has been dubbed a “Manhattan Project” for the coronavirus. The original Manhattan Project was a four-year research and development collaboration that led to the creation of the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II.
Participants in this coronavirus initiative include a variety of biologists, epidemiologists and even a nuclear scientist. They go by the name “Scientists to Stop Covid-19.” Dr. Cahill has been able to leverage his connections with powerful financiers such as Peter Thiel and Michael Milken to recruit additional participants and to establish a direct line with the White House and top federal health officials. Members of the group review scores of coronavirus-related scientific papers each day and debate strategies via Zoom conference calls. They recently issued a 17-page paper consisting of proposals in the following four areas:
- How to rapidly repurpose an antiviral drug to treat COVID-19 patients;
- How to expedite the development of human antibody drugs to treat patients and provide short-term protection for healthy individuals;
- How to develop COVID-19 vaccines on an expedited time scale; and
- How to reopen our businesses and schools in a manner that reduces the risk of future outbreaks and death.
According to the WSJ, “The Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs have already implemented specific recommendations, such as slashing manufacturing regulations and requirements for specific coronavirus drugs.”
Early Remdesivir results look good
Today, Foster City, California-based Gilead Sciences, Inc. announced positive initial results from an international trial of its drug Remdesivir. First developed as an Ebola treatment, Remdesivir later showed promise as a treatment for dangerous viruses MERS and SARS. This prompted Gilead to explore its use in COVID-19 patients.
The placebo-controlled study of COVID-19 patients has shown that a 5-day Remdesivir treatment may reduce the duration of illness and the mortality rate. Generally, the earlier patients received treatment, the better the outcome. The study is awaiting peer review.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, expressed cautious optimism about the trial results. He said that the early data indicates “a clear-cut, significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.”
An expedited vaccine at Oxford University
The New York Times reports that scientists at Oxford University have developed a potential COVID-19 vaccine based on a previously developed vaccine that was both safe and effective when used to treat a related coronavirus. They plan to test the vaccine on 6,000 people in May. If the drug proves effective, a few million doses could be readied by September – sooner than all other leading vaccine development efforts in the world.
Recent animal trials of the drug are encouraging. Scientists with the US National Institutes of Health injected six rhesus monkeys with the Oxford vaccine last month. They then exposed the monkeys to quantities of SARS-COV-2 “that had consistently sickened other monkeys in the lab.” Four weeks later, all of the test monkeys remained uninfected.