Apr 11, 2020 - Health

What's next in the race for a coronavirus treatment

Illustration of a syringe with dates on the side.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Drugmaker Gilead is set to release clinical trial data in the next couple of weeks for a potential coronavirus treatment — the next big benchmark in a breakneck race to develop a drug that will help arrest the global pandemic.

Why it matters: The only way to truly get back to normal is through a treatment or, ideally, a vaccine. And the World Health Organization has said Gilead's drug, called remdesivir, is the "most promising candidate."

What we're watching: Gilead's next data release will come from a clinical trial being conducted in China. There's some concern that the trial isn't as strong as researchers had hoped, but Gilead seems to be expecting good things. It has ramped up production and supply.

What's next: Several other drugs are in late-stage trials. Those are by far the closest to mass production, but the biggest hope rests with a vaccine.

Treatments
  • Regeneron and Roche are testing existing anti-inflammatory drugs, and late-stage data for both is expected this summer. The good news: These drugs already exist, and their manufacturers already have big operations.
  • Other treatments are a long way, six months or longer, from knowing if they work. Many experts are watching an oral drug at Emory University that will start human testing soon. More U.S. hospitals and labs also started testing hydroxychloroquine, but we simply don't know yet whether the drug works, politics aside.
Vaccines
  • Moderna is still testing its vaccine in humans, and it won't be widely available for at least 12 months, assuming it's safe and effective. However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs its vaccine could possibly be used for emergency use for "some people, possibly including health care professionals, in the fall of 2020," and the company is scaling up production to millions of doses per month.
  • Inovio just started human trials for its vaccine this week.
  • Pfizer and BioNTech are working together to start trials of their vaccine by the end of April.
  • Experts say it's unrealistic to expect a mass-produced vaccine before 2021.

The bottom line: The science behind developing coronavirus treatments has never moved this fast before. But that doesn't mean expediency will supersede knowledge, and social distancing is giving us the chance to do more rigorous research.

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