The Health October 2020 - Page 26


The Health | October , 2020

| Covid-19 |

The race for a Covid vaccine is revolutionising Big Pharma

The swarm of initiatives to develop vaccines against Covid-19 is unique


200 in development . Thirtynine in human clinical trials . Nine in Phase III trials . I mean , yes , that is something .”
There is marvel in Seth Berkley ’ s voice as he relates the progress made so far in producing a possible vaccine against Covid-19 . But then , he ’ s quick to point out that these numbers are more mile markers than milestones .“ We don ’ t know whether any of those are going to make it through ,” he says .
According to Fortune , there remains much testing to be done before we ’ ll know if any of these valiant efforts produces a safe and truly effective countermeasure to this pandemic . There are few people on earth who better understand the power of vaccines — or who know more about the challenge of developing , vetting , and distributing them around the world — than Berkley . The physician and epidemiologist presides over GAVI , the Vaccine Alliance , which over the past 20 years has immunised nearly 800 million children against a host of deadly pathogens , saving millions of lives .
Before becoming GAVI ’ s CEO in 2011 , Berkley founded and led the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative — which itself was a long lesson in both perseverance and keeping one ’ s expectations in check . There is , after all , no vaccine yet for HIV , the virus that causes AIDS , despite nearly four decades of global endeavor .
According to Fortune , there remains much testing to be done before we ’ ll know if any of these valiant efforts produces a safe and truly effective countermeasure to this pandemic .”
Nor is there one for SARS or MERS , those two other deadly coronaviruses that have emerged in recent years — nor for Lyme disease , West Nile virus , Zika , or the common cold .
Yet in one striking way , the swarm of initiatives to develop vaccines against Covid is unique , says Berkley . That is in the readiness of pharmaceutical companies to stand together in one very important common cause : ensuring that when vaccines are ready , they are available to the whole world at the same time .
A scientist at work at the Jenner Institute at Oxford University , whose research on vaccines for the MERS coronavirus has given it a head start in the Covid-19 vaccine race .
The way this is manifesting is through what is itself a first-of-its-kind enterprise . GAVI , along with CEPI ( the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations ) and the World Health Organization , have formed what they have called the “ COVAX Facility ”— a plan that pools together the purchasing power of wealthier nations to secure a portfolio of viable vaccines and simultaneously coordinates worldwide efforts to manufacture , stockpile , distribute , and deliver them safely and speedily to billions of people .
So far , more than 170 countries have signed on to the compact — and virtually every pharma company working on a Covid vaccine is participating in the planning , Berkley says . The goal is to invest in a portfolio of 12 to 15 candidate vaccines , as the most promising ones evolve , and then help those companies scale up manufacturing .
“ We ’ re trying to do 2 billion doses by end
of 2021 ,” Berkley says . “ Nothing like this has ever been done before . Yes , we ’ ll have some rough patches — I ’ m sure we ’ ll have lots of critics — but the idea that , in a pandemic , the whole world is coming together , that industry is leading as part of this … that ’ s a really big deal .” And it ’ s a big deal that could have positive repercussions long after this catastrophic virus is corralled .
For a sector that has long been at or near the bottom of public opinion ratings — the pharmaceutical industry is currently the second-most disliked business group in America , according to Gallup ’ s polling , up from its dead-last ranking last year — the Covid crisis has provided an opportunity for redemption . And many knowledgeable observers say the industry has grabbed it . “ Their response to the pandemic and this great work that pharma people are doing has reminded many of their capacities and how they can be helpful to the world — as opposed to the industry being viewed as kind of selfish and uncooperative ,” Bill Gates tells Fortune
Perhaps the most unexpected aspect to that response has been the sector ’ s wholehearted embrace of collaboration . We ’ ve seen traditional pharma giant AstraZeneca , which in years past has not been a major player in vaccines , partner with a venerable academic institution ( University of Oxford ) to swiftly bring a vaccine candidate from lab to human trial . We ’ ve seen rivals snuggle up in pairs ( Sanofi and GSK ) and international collaborations galore : Germany ’ s BioNTech , for instance , is testing one novel messenger RNA vaccine with giant Pfizer , in New York , and a second with Fosun Pharma , in Shanghai .

Companies attempt to make coronavirus tests widely available

Nearly two months after federal regulators unveiled rules for at-home coronavirus tests , no company has federal approval to sell these fast and cheap tests even though the technology is ready .
USA Today reported that molecular PCR tests processed at medical labs remain the standard of accurate testing , but they are more expensive and results can take days to process . Antigen tests are less expensive , plentiful and deliver results in minutes . Three companies gained Food and Drug Administration authorisation to sell antigen testing instruments to labs or clinics . A fourth company , Abbott Laboratories , won approval to market a $ 5 rapid , credit card-sized test administered by a health care professional .
But no company has been cleared to sell tests directly to consumers for widespread screening – a step some believe is necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19 , as more than 200,000 Americans have died and people worry about safely returning to work , school , travel or sporting events .
“ The way to get this under control is if people find out as early as possible they are infected and then quarantine from others ,” said Dr Yukari Manabe , a Johns Hopkins University professor of medicine . The United States needs 30 million tests a week to adequately track the virus and protect vulnerable residents , according to the Rockefeller Foundation . Labs have worked round the clock to gradually bring more tests to Americans over the past six months . Still , the nation reached one million daily tests for the first time last week , about one quarter of Rockefeller ’ s goal of more than 4 million tests each day , according to the Covid Tracking Project .
Testing in many states and clinics is limited to people exposed to the virus or sick . Routine screening could prevent the spread among people who have the virus but don ’ t have any symptoms . If people test themselves before going to work , restaurants or school , it could significantly reduce transmission .
The effort to screen people without symptoms is monumental , said Stephen Tang , president and chief executive officer of OraSure Technologies .
“ We ’ ve never had this kind of undertaking in our history ,” Tang said .