By Travis Decaminada
Key Takeaway: The Biden administration recently announced a $3.2 billion fund made available to create both a Covid-19 pill as well as other antiviral medicines. A pill may be an effective means to both keep people safe from Covid-19, while also limiting its spread because vaccines are not always 100% effective and not all people can or will get vaccinated. Finally, the benefits of preparing for a future pandemic by creating new medicine now cannot be understated.
By now many Americans have had their Covid-19 vaccinations, and while getting their shots many people likely wished that they could have just taken a pill instead, especially were they able to do so at home. Well, that may be in the pipeline as major investments from both the public and private sector are reportedly being made specifically to create new antiviral medicines, including a Covid-19 pill. Per Forbes, the Biden Administration has set aside $3.2 billion for the “discovery, development and manufacturing” of new antiviral medications; these new drugs are not intended solely to fight Covid-19, instead, new medicines are reportedly being developed to combat a range of viruses, including those that may potentially cause future pandemics.
Per the article, the department of Health and Human Services (DHS) hopes that treating Covid-19 in the future will be just as routine as treating any other virus. The article notes that “ideally oral antiviral medicines will be administered at home early in the course of infection, much the same way doctors have long prescribed antiviral treatments for the flu.” Moreover, there is hope that by developing new antiviral drugs now, society will be more prepared for any future pandemic; Dr. David Kessler, the chief science officer of Biden’s Covid-19 response team, is quoted in the Forbes article as saying that DHS hopes “…that we can get an antiviral by the end of the fall that can help us close out this chapter of the epidemic.”
(Official press release from DHS regarding the initiative here.)
In the Private Sector
Via the Wall Street Journal, at least three large pharmaceutical companies are currently working on a Covid-19 pill, irrespective of the above initiative. Allegedly, Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. have been working on a pill for some time with human trials current ongoing. Now, the pharma-giants will be joined by a Japanese company, Shionogi & Co., who also began human trials this month. The article explains why a Covid-19 pill is so important:
All three companies aim to fill one of the biggest gaps in fighting the pandemic. Vaccines remain effective at preventing serious illness from known strains of the Covid-19 virus including the contagious Delta strain, studies have shown. But some people don’t want to get vaccinated, and cases can occur for those who do get their shots.
Moreover, while other covid treatments such as remdesivir can be effective at combating the virus, the treatments are complicated and generally requires a patient to be admitted to a hospital.
A different article from New Atlas adds that “Not everyone can, or will, get vaccinated. For some people, such as the immunocompromised, vaccines are not particularly effective. And despite our best efforts, vaccines will never be 100 percent effective at stopping transmission or infection.”
The article from New Atlas also goes on to describe that one of the challenges when creating new antiviral medicines that scientist face is how to disrupt a virus’s replication without impact to the patient’s overall health. The article concludes by mentioning the emerging Delta variant and notes how important new cures are as the world copes with what appears to be an increasing number of coronaviruses.