August 5, 2021

US Government to Spend Over USD 3 Billion for COVID-19 Antiviral Pills

Since the COVID-19 virus took a toll on the world, the US government has poured in over USD 18 Billion to develop the vaccine. This, in turn, has led to the successful investment, as it has given birth to at least three effective COVID-19 vaccine shots. Now, the White House will be investing more than USD 3 Billion to develop oral antiviral pills to treat the virus, the Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday.

Major healthcare agencies of the US, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institution of Health, have collaborated to form the new program, known as Antiviral program for Pandemics, to develop sustainable platforms for the discovery and development of antivirals. Some of the antiviral pills are expected to hit the market by end of the year. The package of USD 3.2 Billion would be allocated from the USD 1.9 Trillion COVID-19 relief fund, which was signed by the US President Joe Biden in March.

“New antivirals that prevent serious Covid-19 illness and death, especially oral drugs that could be taken at home early in the course of the disease, would be powerful tools for battling the pandemic and saving lives,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious said. He’s also the chief medical advisor to the President. Dr. Fauci, a key backer of the program, had conducted a research in the 1990s for the development of antiviral pills for H.I.V. He added that “this investment from the American Rescue Plan to create the Antiviral Program for Pandemics will help inspire medical innovation and build on the extraordinary success we have seen in developing the COVID-19 vaccines.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, researchers began testing existing antiviral drugs on the hospitalized COVID-19 patients. However, the trials didn’t show any effective results. On the optimistic side, remdesvir was the only antiviral drug that shortened the COVID-19 course. Last year, it gained FDA approval for the treatment of the virus. However, the World Health Organization (WHO), was against the use of remdesvir. According to medical reports, the antiviral drug won’t do its work in an oral formulation.

The new program by the healthcare agencies won’t only be focusing on the development of COVID-19 drug candidates, but will also work on the “advanced development of promising therapies.” Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced that it will procure over 1.7 Million courses of Merck-developed antiviral treatment for the emergency purpose. The antiviral medicine molnupirvair is expected to administer viral genome copying errors to prevent the spreading of the virus. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the purchase of 1.7 Million molnupirvair doses for USD 1.2 Billion.

“With the President’s leadership, this Administration has vaccinated millions of people. Even with very effective vaccines, some people may remain vulnerable to the virus, including people who are immunosuppressed or who are unvaccinated,” said Dr. David Kessler, the chief science officer of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response team. In an interview, he said that we hope to “get an antiviral drug by the end of the fall that can help us close out this chapter of the epidemic.”

Out of the total allocated fund, USD 300 Million is expected to allocate to the research fund, almost USD 1 Billion to preclinical and clinical evaluation, and USD 300 Million for the development and manufacturing of antiviral pills. Moreover, the government will be spending USD 1.2 Billion on research centers, where scientists will carry out discovery and development to block the virus.

Drugs That Are Taken into Consideration

According to New York Times, the US government has taken AT-527, developed by Atea Pharmaceuticals. The drug has already proven effective for the treatment of hepatitis C, while the studies suggest that it can work against the COVID-19 virus. Currently, Atea has partnered with Roche to run a clinical trial. Another drug that can lead to a potential antiviral drug is known as PF-07321332. This molecule drug was developed by Pfizer in the 2000s as a cure for SARS. However, the pandemic forced the researchers at the company to modify the structure and use it for the treatment of the virus.

Even if the heavy fund allocation on development of antiviral drugs don’t fruit out any pills at the end of the year, it “will provide a first line of defense for the next one [pandemic],” said Mark Namchuk, the executive director of therapeutics translation at Harvard Medical School.