Jun 17, 2021 - Health

HHS to invest $3 billion for antiviral pills against COVID-19

Illustration of money pouring into a prescription bottle. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration will invest $3.2 billion to foster the development of antiviral pills to help fight against COVID-19, the Health and Human Services department announced Thursday, with hopes the medication becomes available to the public as soon as the end of this year.

The big picture: Researchers had tested existing antivirals like remdesivir in hospitals on patients with severe COVID-19, but they produced underwhelming results and little to no benefit.

  • The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency authorization for three monoclonal antibody drug treatment for early COVID infections.

Why it matters: The newly announced program, called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics, looks to close the gap on financial investment and research directed toward COVID-19 treatments and antivirals.

  • The program will also support research on entirely new drugs that could help respond to future pandemics.
  • NIAID director Anthony Fauci told reporters at a briefing Thursday the government has a “great deal of optimism that this program will be as successful” as similar federally-funded projects for viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C.

What they're saying: “I wake up in the morning, I don’t feel very well, my sense of smell and taste go away, I get a sore throat,” Fauci told the New York Times. “I call up my doctor and I say, ‘I have COVID and I need a prescription.’”

Details: The funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan, is aimed at speeding up the clinical trials of a few promising drug candidates.

  • More than $300 million will be reserved for research and lab support, nearly $1 billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation and nearly $700 million for development and manufacturing through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the agency said.

Noteworthy: The Biden administration announced last week it's buying about $1.2 billion worth of Merck's experimental COVID pills Molnupiravir.

  • The drug is taken every 12 hours for five days. It has not been approved, but appears to help newly diagnosed, non-hospitalized COVID patients.

Go deeper: Scientists hunt for antiviral drugs to fight COVID-19

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