U.S. innovators are rushing to combat the new coronavirus, with vaccines already in development and new treatment options being tested in the United States and Asia.
The rapid response received a boost this month as President Trump signed into law $8.3 billion in federal funds to fight COVID-19. The funding is helping federal agencies and their private-sector partners to quickly produce vaccines and new therapies.
“These treatments will significantly reduce the impact and reach of the virus,” Trump said in a March 11 address to the nation. “Testing and testing capabilities are expanding rapidly, day by day. We are moving very quickly.”
In congressional testimony in March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said scientists are speeding vaccines through the early stages of development at “record” pace. But he cautioned necessary testing could mean a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 is a year to 18 months away.
“We need to make sure it’s safe, and we need to make sure it works,” Fauci testified.
With the race to a vaccine underway, U.S. partnerships also are developing new treatments and expanding testing to save patients and contain the disease.
Fauci said numerous potential vaccines are in the works, with the first candidates beginning testing in the next two months. The Massachusetts-based biotech firm Moderna in February sent the first samples of its potential vaccine mRNA-1273 to NIAID and the National Institutes of Health for testing.
The biotech company Novavax, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is preparing multiple potential vaccines for clinical trials, with the first round of testing expected to start in the coming months, according to a March 10 statement from the company.
While safety and efficacy testing of vaccines are underway, U.S. producers also are busy at work on new treatment methods for those already infected. In late February, California-based Gilead began testing the new COVID-19 therapy remdesivir in Asia and the United States. The company expects results from tests conducted in China by April.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of Seattle, March 12 awarded $5 million to speed Inovio Pharmaceuticals’ development of a vaccine delivery device designed specifically to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The device would deliver INO-4800, a potential vaccine that Inovio, of Pennsylvania, expects to begin testing in April.
Inovio plans to begin manufacturing the small, portable delivery device by year-end.
U.S. companies are also working to more quickly screen people for COVID-19. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is helping fund development of the first high-throughput test that can screen 1,000 patients a day and give results in three hours.
HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) March 9 announced a $699,000 grant to support Massachusetts-based Hologic’s development of the new screening process. The test could be ready in a matter of weeks and may be eligible for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s prompt Emergency Use Authorization process.
“Early, rapid diagnosis is essential for clinicians and their patients to treat infections appropriately and take immediate action to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” BARDA Director Rick Bright said in a statement.