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Business-Foundation Alliance Funds Covid-19 Treatments

Coronavirus graphic

(Pete Linforth, Pixabay)

10 Mar. 2020. Two foundations and a credit card company are providing seed money for development and manufacture of treatments for the novel coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Wellcome in London, and Mastercard in Purchase, New York are establishing a Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator and committing $125 million to the effort.

The Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator plans to promote identification, testing, development, and manufacture of Covid-19 therapies.  World Health Organization says it became aware of several pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan City, China on 31 December 2019. But by 7 January 2020, authorities in China confirmed this was a new and previously unknown respiratory virus, with WHO calling it the novel coronavirus, later code-named Covid-19. A global case tracking dashboard hosted by Johns Hopkins University says as of today (10 March), nearly 116,000 cases are reported in 115 countries, leading to more than 4,000 deaths. In the U.S., 761 Covid-19 cases are confirmed, with 27 deaths attributed to the disease.

While some antiviral drugs are shown to reduce flu symptoms or treat HIV, say the funders, treatments for viral diseases are not often undertaken by drug companies, since they tend to lack an immediate market, like vaccines. The Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator aims to reduce financial and technical risks for academic labs and companies, as well as encourage research and development, and clear regulatory pathways for products treating the disease. This type of collaboration, says the funders, helped speed drugs to combat the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

The initiative expects to play a catalytic role in repurposing or developing Covid-19 treatments, working with international and national health authorities, funders, and regulatory agencies. The new effort, say the funders, will focus first on existing drugs or biologics that may be effective against the novel coronavirus outbreak. The accelerator will also assess new treatments for Covid-19, if needed, with the eventual goal of broad-spectrum antivirals or immunotherapies against emerging pathogens. The accelerator also plans to encourage making any treatments accessible to low-resource regions.

The Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator expects to engage biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the effort, working from their existing compound libraries and clinical data. Drugs and biologics that pass an initial screening will then be developed by industry partners. Companies will also be asked to contribute their expertise for clinical studies, scaling up, manufacturing, and distribution of Covid-19 treatments. In addition, the accelerator will work with regulatory agencies to use or create priority review pathways for therapies.

The Gates and Wellcome foundations are each contributing $50 million to the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, while Mastercard is adding $25 million. The Gates contribution is part of the foundation’s earlier commitment of $100 million to combat Covid-19.

“Viruses like Covid-19 spread rapidly, but the development of vaccines and treatments to stop them moves slowly,” says Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman in a joint statement. “If we want to make the world safe from outbreaks like Covid-19, particularly for those most vulnerable, then we need to find a way to make research and development move faster. That requires governments, private enterprise, and philanthropic organizations to act quickly to fund R&D.”

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