March 23, 2020, Today is the 63rd day since the COVID-19 virus spread to the U.S. from China. As you are all aware it is having a huge impact on our everyday lives. The danger of COVID-19 is that it is a new strain of Coronavirus and as such there are no antibodies built up in the population, no known cure, and no existing vaccine. That means that theoretically, it could spread to every person in this country and throughout the world. Even though the fatality rate is fairly low, with early estimates showing it to be around 1% to 2% (these are early estimates and could change). That would still mean that if everyone were to become infected in the U.S. you could be looking at the number of deaths being anywhere between 3 to 6 million. Worldwide deaths could range from about 80 million to 150 million but again that would be if every person was infected which in my opinion is highly unlikely.
The initial response to combat the spread of COVID-19 has been to shut down a major portion of the economy in the U.S. and many other countries throughout the world. This response which should help slow or reduce the spread of the virus if allowed to drag on for too long has the potential to be devastating to the U.S. and global economies.
It is crucial that we find a way to get our economies running again as soon as possible and to this end, many Biotech companies are working around the clock to develop a vaccine to fight COVID-19. Unfortunately, developing a vaccine will most likely take 12 to 18 months and we simply do not have that much time. Another approach that could make a treatment available much sooner is finding an existing drug that may be successful in fighting COVID-19.
Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) has an antiviral drug called Remdesivir which was originally developed to treat Ebola. Unfortunately for Gilead Sciences, the drug was not successful because it was found to be not as effective as other drugs in fighting Ebola. However, in clinical trials, the drug was found to be effective against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), another coronavirus, in mice. The Wall Street Journal recently had an article which stated that Remdesivir showed promise in treating patients from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. The drug appeared to reduce the need for ventilator support. The Trump administration on March 19, cleared Remdesivir for compassionate use which means it can be used on critically ill patients even though it has not gone through clinical studies.
There is a second drug that has been approved for Compassionate use called chloroquine, or hydroxychloroquine. Chloroquine is a very old drug that is used to treat Malaria and is now generic. Drugmaker Mylan (NASDAQ:MYL) in response to COVID-19 announced it would be ramping up production of Chloroquine and drugmaker Bayer (OTC:BAYRY) said they would donate 3 million pills to fight the disease. Recently scientists in both China and France have said they are seeing promising results in patients using Chloroquine. Also, French infectious-disease expert Didier Raoult said patients he was treating "had seen a rapid and effective speeding up of their healing process and a sharp decrease in the amount of time they remained contagious" after taking Chloroquine. A new U.S. study seems to have shown similar results saying: “Use of chloroquine (tablets) is showing favorable outcomes in humans infected with coronavirus, including faster time to recovery and shorter hospital stay. ... Research shows that chloroquine also has strong potential as a prophylactic (preventative) measure against coronavirus in the lab, while we wait for a vaccine to be developed”.
Besides the two drugs mentioned above other drugs that are being used in trials and showing promising results are listed below.
Avigan is an antiflu drug that was developed in Japan. A trial held in China showed that patients turned negative for the disease in a median of four days, versus the 11 days for those not treated with the drug.
Kevzara and Actemra
Kevzara was developed in a joint venture between Regeneron (NASDAQ:REGN) and Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY), Actemra was developed by Roche Holding (OTC:RHHBY). Both drugs were originally developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Regeneron is looking to start trials in the New York area, and Sanofi is looking to conduct trials in France. Roche has initiated a phase 3 trial and will begin enrolling patients in April.
Here is a list of other Biotech companies that are working on Vaccines to fight COVID-19.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK): Drug name: AS03 Adjuvant System
Heat Biologics Inc. US:HTBX: Drug Name: TBD, Stage: Preclinical
Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. US:INO: Drug Name: INO-4800, Stage: Preclinical
Johnson & Johnson US:JNJ: Drug Name: TBD, Stage: Pre Clinical
Moderna Inc. US:MRNA: Name: mRNA-1273, Stage: Phase 1
Novavax Inc. US:NVAX: Drug Name: TBD, Stage: Pre Clinical
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. US:REGN: Name: TBD, Stage: Preclinical
Sanofi US:SNY: Name: TBD, Stage: Preclinical
Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. US:TAK: Name: TAK-888, Stage: Preclinical
Vaxart Inc. US:VXRT: Name: TBD, Stage: Preclinical
Vir Biotechnology Inc. US:VIR and Biogen Inc. US:BIIB: Name: TBD, Stage: Preclinical
As you can see there are numerous Biotech companies that are working hard to try and tackle this problem that the world faces. For the sake of lives around the world and the global economy let’s hope one of the existing drugs is found to be effective in fighting off the spread of COVID-19.
Please cooperate with the shelter-in-place orders being issued and practice social distancing as much as possible. Also, wash your hands as often as you can and take whatever other measures you can to minimize your chances of exposure. It is going to take the cooperation of everyone to keep the spread of this disease to a minimum. We need to buy time until there is a drug found that can combat this virus. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic but, in my opinion, thousands or possibly even millions of lives hang in the balance along with the global economy.
Stay healthy and safe!