The novel COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that began in China has taken the entire world by storm. It is, first and foremost, a human tragedy that has not only affected hundreds of thousands of people from across the world but also created a massive stir across the socio-economic landscape of many countries. Out of the 195 countries, COVID-19 has infected 192 of them around the world.
At present, there are no approved vaccines or medicines available in the market to treat affected patients. However, there are several drugs in the pipeline that are yet to be launched or approved. A mix of legacy pharmaceutical companies and small start-ups are investing in the research and development (R&D) of vaccine constructs like the production of right target antigens and other clinical trial procedures. The genome sequence of COVID-19 was released in January, and since then, drugmakers are carrying out human trials.
At present, there are no vaccines or therapies approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the disease, while the authority on March 29 granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate to treat patients affected with COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies have been able to work around the clock and faster than the typical development timeline, thanks to past research on other outbreaks of human coronaviruses such as MERS and SARS. It is expected that the new vaccine will be available to use within 18 months.
In March 2020, Pfizer Inc., one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, entered into a joint venture with BioNtech Se to produce and distribute the latter's mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate BNT-162. The two companies have previously partnered to create a potential vaccine for influenza, and the new venture will extend their partnership to accelerate the development of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Gilead Sciences is one of the first companies to begin work on potential treatments. The company has completed testing of an antiviral drug candidate called Remdesivir that was originally designed for Ebola, showed promising results in reducing symptoms in COVID-19 patients. From that point, Gilead Sciences has undertaken two late-stage trials in China, two more late-stage trials in Asia, and one trial involving health authorities from the U.S.
In any case, the latest studies involving 12 COVID-19 patients treated with Remdesivir showed mixed results with regards to the drug's efficacy. The company's CEO said that further clinical trials are forthcoming; hence additional information can be expected very soon.
Even though Remdesivir is one of the potential antiviral candidates against COVID-19 in the market, it faces high competition from similar other drugs. Notably, the anti-malarial drug chloroquine has been acclaimed by President Donald Trump as a potential treatment.
GlaxoSmithKline is a leading multinational pharmaceutical company that has introduced many vaccines in the market, such as the vaccines for seasonal flu and Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV). In February, the company announced that it would provide access to its vaccine adjuvant platform to the University of Queensland. Additionally, they have provided access to Clover Biopharmaceuticals Inc — a global pharmaceutical company specializing in clinical trials — who are using it in combination with their COVID-19 vaccine candidate, S-Trimer.
Inovio Pharmaceutical is a well-known biotechnology company and one of the many small-cap vaccine developers that have gained utmost prominence amid this pandemic. In January 2020, the company announced that it had begun work on a potential vaccine for COVID-19, INO-4800, and declared that it managed to build an initial candidate just a few hours after the genetic code of the virus was decoded. The company claimed that INO-4800 has officially completed phase 1 clinical testing.
Previously, the company had successfully addressed other types of human coronaviruses, and now, INO-4700, which is currently undergoing phase 2 trials, is a potential vaccine candidate designed to prevent MERS. This previous experience and success in developing a vaccine candidate for MERS have many investors interested in the company's chances with the drug. Additionally, Inovio Pharmaceuticals has said that it will be developing 1 million vaccine doses by the end of this year.
While this could be a remarkable achievement for Inovio, it's still dubious whether it will be able to produce and distribute it across the world.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals wasn't among the first few companies to announce a potential drug for COVID-19. However, investor excitement immediately sent shares rising when the company announced that its rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug, Kevzara, could help treat patients with severe cases of the coronavirus.
The company designed Kevzara in a way that can help reduce the amount of inflammation in arthritis patients, typically by inhibiting specific proteins known as interleukins. The theory is that Kevzara, which affects the interleukin-6 (IL-6) pathway, could be beneficial in reducing the inflammatory response seen in coronavirus patients, thereby mitigating the severity of the symptoms.
Earlier this month, Regeneron said that it was possible that it's trial antibody cocktail for SARS-CoV-2 may be available for use by the end of September 2020 or by the end of this year, at the maximum. At present, the company faces competition from other potential IL-6 inhibitors such as Roche Holding's IL-6 inhibiting drug Actemra, which has managed to show impressive anecdotal results in China. The FDA has recently approved a phase 3 trial to see if Actemra could help patients with severe cases of COVID-19.
Just like other drug makers, Novavax Inc. has developed several promising products on the horizon, including a revolutionary flu vaccine, NanoFlu. However, things changed for the company, and its shares quadrupled since the beginning of the year when it announced that it's working on a COVID-19 vaccine. In February, the company reported that it has been testing several potential vaccine candidates in preclinical animal studies.
Novavax decided that candidate NVX-CoV2373 showed the maximum potential in preclinical tests, with the drug showing immunogenicity. The company plans to start Phase 1clinical trials by June.
Emergent BioSolutions is a company that is working way beyond the curve and is focused on developing treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. In March, the company announced that it is working on two candidate hyperimmune products against coronavirus. These drugs will aim to control the immune response so as to fight against COVID-19 and are extracted from antibodies found in the blood of coronavirus positive people. Besides, Emergent BioSolutions announced its partnership with two companies, Novavax & Vaxart, to provide R&D services for potential vaccines against COVID-19.