Big Pharma Continues Development of Coronavirus Vaccine

Several big pharma biotich firms are advancing on a cure for the coronavirus, after receiving funding to develop a vaccine.
Brad Bergan

Recently, the World Health Organization declared the deadly coronavirus a pandemic disease, while several big pharma biotech firms  — many with significant grants, funding, or spikes in stock value — rush to find new treatments and cures to the deadly disease. Testing is crucial in the fight to curb the spread of the globe-sweeping coronavirus, but vaccines remain a clear goal. Of course, the situation surrounding the race to a vaccine is evolving every day, so there's no time to waste in getting up to speed.


Recent moves against the coronavirus

Most recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval for the use of a lightning-fast coronavirus test that works up to 10 times faster than earlier ones, reports Bloomberg.

The trick to enhanced speed lies in the new test's greater capabilities. While this says nothing about public access to testing, it's the first commercially available test to receive emergency approval.

Earlier in March, Regeneron's CEO Leonard Schleifer said his pharmaceutical company hopes to develop a viable treatment ready for human testing by August, reports the CNBC. But the speed of deployment will depend on early animal-based data in possession of Regeneron, said Schleifer during an appearance on "The Exchange."

"I think that we can get a lot done very quickly," he said.

Regeneron previously created an effective treatment for the Ebola virus, and earlier this year began an immunization process for COVID-19 with genetically engineered mice, said Schleifer. The mice are altered to have human immune systems.

"We already have tubes with lots of antibodies in them. Over the course of the next weeks we're going to screen them for the best couple that we think could block the virus," said Schleifer.

While it's obvious companies researching a cure to the coronavirus have an interest in helping everyone, their pursuits also have financial effects.

Investing in a corporate solution

Novavax Inc. shares jumped 8% on Tuesday after the company announced its receipt of $4 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) to create a COVID-19 vaccine, according to MarketWatch.

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The company declared it has numerous vaccine candidates in preclinical animal studies and is set to begin a phase 1 clinical trial by June. "This first stage of funding from CEPI is critical to enable ongoing development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidates," said Stanley Erck, CEO of Novavax, in a statement, reports MarketWatch.

In the last three months, Novavax shares jumped 157% while the S&P 500 fell 12%.

Big pharma during a global pandemic

At the same time, Co-Diagnostic's stock nearly doubled in January, to its one-year high. At the time the company said it had "completed principle design work" for a coronavirus screening test. Dwight Egan, the company's chief executive, said in a statement that Co-Diagnostics would be in a position to "quickly assist" in making a test available to affected countries, should the World Health Organization declare coronavirus a global health emergency. No further news has surfaced on its progress since the WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic.

This echoed a similar jump in pharmaceutical stock when Inovio received its $9 million CEPI grant. Inovio — the biotechnology company based in Pennsylvania — has an existing partnership with CEPI, in which the company was previously granted an award up to $56 million to curate vaccines for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Lassa fever.

"We have challenged ourselves to do this one even faster," said Joseph Kim, during a phone interview with MarketWatch.

Another partnership, between the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and drug producer Moderna, has been working to curate a vaccine to the coronavirus, and as of February was poised to begin testing the rapidly-developed vaccine on 20 to 25 healthy volunteers in April, according to Axios.

The aim of the test is to see whether two doses are safe and successful in generating an immune response to protect against the coronavirus. Results will be released in July or August, NIAID director Anthony Fauci told the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratories have been testing for SARS-CoV-2 to help with the diagnosis of coronavirus since January, and it has shared data on the virus with the Biodefense and Emerging Infections Research Resources Repository to safely distribute samples to U.S. public health and academic organizations for additional research, according to the CDC website.

Of course, investments alone don't solve global problems. Researchers in China actually discovered how the virus infects human cells, which suggests that big pharma might not be first in the race to develop a vaccine. But whether from corporate labs of biotech firms or in the relatively modest environs of university research, it's best to hope not just for a vaccine — but one that anyone and everyone will find easily accessible, as soon as possible.

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