- The Biden administration is putting $3.2 billion toward antiviral medicines for COVID-19.
- The ideal drug could be taken early in the course of an illness to prevent hospitalization.
- So far, the FDA has only approved one drug to treat COVID-19 in hospitalized patients.
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The Biden administration announced on Thursday that it will invest $3.2 billion in the development and manufacturing of antiviral medicines for COVID-19 and other viruses with “pandemic potential.”
“New antivirals that prevent serious COVID-19 illness and death, especially oral drugs that could be taken at home early in the course of disease, would be powerful tools for battling the pandemic and saving lives,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The plan — called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics — will be funded through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration said.
So far, the Food and Drug Administration has only approved one drug, remdesivir, for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients. But a large World Health Organization study found that remdesivir didn’t improve patient outcomes, so the WHO has since recommended against using the drug.
A handful of other treatments have received emergency authorization in hopes of saving lives during the pandemic. The FDA authorized the use of convalescent plasma — treating sick patients with the blood of those who’ve already recovered — for hospitalized COVID-19 patients in August.
The agency has also authorized monoclonal antibodies, which function similarly to convalescent plasma, but can be designed to target specific coronavirus proteins. The treatments are intended for nonhospitalized COVID-19 patients, but appear to be less effective against COVID-19 cases caused by variants.
That leaves room for more drugs that can keep people out of the hospital, no matter what strain has infected them. When a person gets sick with the flu, for instance, they can take the FDA-approved Tamiflu — which comes in pill or liquid form — early in the course of their illness to try to stop the infection from getting worse.
Already, a public-private partnership led by the National Institutes of Health has prioritized 19 coronavirus therapies for testing in clinical trials.
The Biden administration’s latest investment could help promising antiviral candidates advance to phase 2 clinical trials by providing more than $300 million for research and lab support and almost $1 billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation. It also allocates nearly $700 million for development and manufacturing, plus up to $1.2 billion for developing and discovering new drugs.
Fauci told The New York Times that he envisioned a future where COVID-19 patients could pick up pills from the pharmacy to treat their illness shortly after testing positive or developing symptoms.
“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 said. “I call up my doctor and I say, ‘I have COVID and I need a prescription.'”
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.