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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

Go deeper

Sep 24, 2021 - Health

Judge denies Massachusetts State Police attempt to delay state vaccine mandate

Photo: Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A Superior Court judge on Thursday denied the request of the union representing 1,800 Massachusetts State Police troopers to delay the governor's state employee vaccine mandate, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: State workers who aren't vaccinated in Massachusetts by Oct. 17 will face disciplinary action, including possible termination.

Sep 25, 2021 - Health

Federal judge upholds Cincinnati health care system's COVID vaccine mandate

Photo: Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Friday that a health care provider serving the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati region can issue mandates requiring its more than 10,000 employees to get vaccinated or risk termination.

Why it matters: It's the latest ruling to uphold U.S. private employers' right to issue vaccine mandates, and comes after President Biden signed an executive order requiring vaccinations or once-a-week testing for companies with more than 100 employees.

White House says it expects federal contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 8

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House said in new guidance Friday that it expects millions of federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus no later than Dec. 8.

Why it matters: Companies with federal contractors have been waiting for formal guidance from the White House before requiring those employees to get vaccinated, according to Reuters.