Even before UK Health & Social Care Department declared the coronavirus “a serious and imminent threat to public health”, pharma and biotech companies were rushing to combat the common enemy.
But might it already be too late – at least to tackle this latest outbreak?
There are two main routes to creating a new treatment: developing a new drug or vaccine from scratch, or repurposing an existing medication.
According to Adam Barker, analyst at Shore Capital, the latter is the most efficient option given re-tread drugs will already have passed safety and side-effect tests.
“If you develop a new drug or a vaccine for coronavirus, it is unlikely to be used in this outbreak or at least in this stage of this outbreak because the timelines are quite long, so probably the best route to be going down now is trying to repurpose existing drugs,” he explained.
New treatments or vaccines are not a complete waste of time or money, Barker added, as it is “very, very likely” that we will see another coronavirus-style outbreak in the future.
One of the most sought-after repurposed drugs is Kaletra, a combination of two anti-HIV drugs produced by pharma giant AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV).
The treatment, which blocks the enzymes some viruses need to replicate, is set to be tested on 200 patients to assess its potential efficacy.
Similarly, Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) has started testing its HIV drug remdesivir in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the breeding ground for the outbreak.
Following approval by the health authorities in China, it was administered to 761 patients.
US biotech firm Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:REGN) plans to develop a new drug candidate – but it won’t be ready for testing for at least 10 months. Patients looking to access experimental drugs can still receive them through a so-called “compassionate use” outside of clinical trials.
Faron Pharma Oy (LON:FARN) said its drug for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), at a final phase of studies, could help patients with severe cases of coronavirus.
A firm called Belluscura and its research partner Separation Design Group have filed a patent on an oxygen enrichment system for people suffering acute respiratory distress, which occurs in those worst affected by the illness. AIM-listed Tekcapital owns an 18.9% stake in the business.
The safety aspects around human testing of vaccines mean companies developing inoculations have a tightrope to tread.
The University of Queensland and NASDAQ-listed Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc (NASDAQ:INO), Moderna Inc (NASDAQ:MRN) and Novavax Inc (NASDAQ:NVAX) made the news late last month with their plans to develop vaccines.
German biopharma company CureVac received a US$8mln award from CEPI, a global partnership of public and private entities to promote vaccine research and development, to fast-track a rapid-response vaccine platform.
New Jersey-based Conduent announced last week its disease surveillance and outbreak management platform, Maven, has been rebooted to track cases of coronavirus.
This brings on Novacyt SA (LON:NCYT). The AIM-listed firm reported “unprecedented interest” in its Primedesign product, which received orders for 33,000 tests and requests for quotations for another 32,000 from over 30 countries.