Washington : The US is taking another medical moonshot to beat the pandemic, plowing in $3.2 billion to develop antiviral pills to treat Covid-19 infections. If all goes well, some of those pills might become available by the end of this year.
The new programme, coming on top of the $18 billion success story that resulted in effective vaccines in record time, will create platforms that will initially target coronaviruses, and then could be expanded to other viruses with pandemic potential – helping to better prepare the nation for future viral threats, the US department of health and human services announced on Thursday.
The administration had already kicked off the programme by announcing that it would procure more than 1.5 million regimens of a Merck investigational antiviral treatment, should it receive emergency use authorisation. The DHHS revealed that 19 therapeutic agents have already been prioritised for testing in rigorous trials for outpatients and inpatients with Covid-19. Having additional FDA-authorised antiviral medicines available within a year would be a major breakthrough in ongoing efforts to combat Covid-19.
The new funding appears in part to be a course correction after the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed invested heavily in vaccines with less emphasis on other treatments. Oral therapies will be easier to produce, transport, store, and administer. “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 Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to US President, whose experience in helping develop anti-HIV pills underscores the current initiative.