Beyond stopping, or slowing, the spread of COVID-19, the greatest priority is to find a safe vaccine to help protect people from future outbreaks of the virus. Canada’s innovative pharmaceutical industry is at the forefront of that effort, working closely with governments to find solutions to diagnose, treat and prevent the virus.
We all understand that the development of new medicines and vaccines is a complex, time-consuming and expensive process. It will take close collaboration between the private sector and government agencies, along with the co-ordinated work of thousands of scientists, physicians, researchers and volunteers. Under normal circumstances, developing an innovative new medicine can take anywhere from 10 to 15 years and cost over $2-billion to develop and bring to market. The urgency of the COVID-19 outbreak is enabling researchers, industry and government to accelerate that process to bring a potential vaccine to clinical trial status as soon as possible.
As of March 2020, an estimated 80 clinical trials for experimental new treatments and more than 20 vaccines were in development for COVID-19. Here are a few examples of how innovative pharmaceutical companies are working around the clock to find treatments for those who are infected and a vaccine to stop this pandemic in its tracks.
· Canada has been selected as a participant in a Phase III clinical trial studying the safety and efficacy of one of Roche’s portfolio medicines in hospitalized adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. In addition, Roche is collecting and compiling data from other, independently led clinical trials taking place around the world.
· Johnson and Johnson (J&J) has expanded its collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to accelerate research on a potential COVID-19 vaccine, leveraging the same innovative technology used for the company’s investigational Ebola vaccine.
· GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is working with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) on a new collaboration aimed at developing a vaccine. GSK is also collaborating with Clover Biopharmaceuticals, a China-based global biotech company, which has commercial-scale bio-manufacturing capabilities to rapidly produce large quantities of a potential vaccine for COVID-19.
· Eli Lilly and Canadian biotech firm AbCellera have entered into an agreement to co-develop antibody products for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19.
· AbbVie is working in partnership with health authorities and institutions in several countries to evaluate HIV medicine as a COVID-19 treatment.
· Medicago, a Montreal-based company, has announced the production of a potential vaccine candidate for COVID-19, which is undergoing preclinical testing for safety and efficacy.
· Pfizer has outlined a five-point plan calling on the biopharmaceutical industry to join the company in committing to unprecedented collaboration to combat COVID-19. The plan will help scientists more rapidly bring forward therapies and vaccines to protect humankind from this escalating pandemic and prepare the industry to better respond to future global health crises.
· Sanofi and partner Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. have started a clinical trial of their rheumatoid arthritis drug Kevzara as a treatment for the coronavirus. Through Sanofi’s partnership with Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), they have announced plans to leverage some of their previous development work for a SARS vaccine, hoping to unlock a fast path forward for developing a COVID-19 vaccine.
· Takeda is developing an experimental drug to treat people infected with COVID-19, as well as those at high risk, by using the blood of those who have recovered from the virus and the antibodies they developed in their immune systems to defeat the infection.The message from these few examples, and there are many others, is that no stone is being left unturned in the hunt for medicines to treat the infected and a vaccine to prevent others from becoming infected.
The collaboration and partnerships – between private companies and government health and research agencies – are critical in facing a challenge like COVID-19. These well-developed relationships are a solid foundation on which to build.
It’s also important to remember that there’s no single correct route to this kind of research and discovery. Many ideas will likely be explored and discarded along the way. Typically, only approximately one in 10 experimental vaccines make it all the way through to regulatory approval. Therefore, the more companies taking different approaches to find a vaccine, the more “shots on goal” and significantly greater chances of success.
Our members will continue to proudly play their part in developing solutions to address the growing spread of this virus. We remain hopeful that a cure for COVID-19 will be found, but to fulfill that hope requires hard work. We are committed to continuing this work for Canadians and for people around the globe in fighting the spread of the virus and getting treatments to the people who need them.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.