[Ip-health] Stat+: $125M effort to find coronavirus drugs started by Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Mar 10 00:31:16 PDT 2020


https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/10/125m-effort-to-find-coronavirus-drugs-started-by-gates-foundation-wellcome-and-mastercard/

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<SNIP>

With vaccines, Mundel worries that even if a vaccine is ready by the end of
next year, the need to manufacture large numbers of doses could mean it
would take several years to get it to hundreds of millions of people. He
can imagine, he said, a period of as long as six years where therapeutics
might be available, but not vaccines.

To fund any company’s work, the Gates Foundation requires that companies
pledge to make their medicines broadly available around the world. This
does not limit prices that could be charged in developed countries like the
United States. But Mundel said that executives at pharmaceutical companies
are “leery” of being seen as taking advantage of Covid-19.

“The companies that I’ve spoken to, including some of the big companies,
one of their abiding fears is that anything they do in this area would be
seen as some kind of price-gouging,” Mundel said. He added that he is
optimistic drug companies would avoid such a scenario. The bigger worry is
getting medicines that could be used to treat the sick or as a
prophylactics that can prevent infection.

--


HEALTH <https://www.statnews.com/category/health/>
$125M effort to find coronavirus drugs started by Gates Foundation,
Wellcome, and Mastercard

*By* MATTHEW HERPER <https://www.statnews.com/staff/matthew-herper/>
@matthewherper <https://twitter.com/matthewherper>

MARCH 10, 2020

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the charitable group
Wellcome and Mastercard, announced Tuesday that they were launching a $125
million effort to speed up the development of drugs to treat the novel
coronavirus.

The initiative, known as the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, will not be
enough to develop even a single new medicine. But Trevor Mundel, the
president of the Gates Foundation, said the funding could provide important
funds to companies and academic researchers immediately, before government
funding will be available. Mundel estimates that two dozen companies,
evenly divided between large pharmaceutical firms and small biotechs, could
be involved in the effort.

“You need some entity that can work between the private sector … and the
public sector, both the governments and the World Health Organization, and
is able to move fairly agilely between those entities,” Mundel said. That’s
the gap that needed to be filled, Mundel said, if there are going to be new
antiviral drugs or monoclonal antibodies, a type of biotechnology drug,
available within the next year to 18 months to treat the disease known as
Covid-19.

One of initiative’s first goals will be to test antiviral drugs that have
already gone through preclinical development or have already been tested in
humans. Mundel said that the effort will have access to experimental
medicines from Johnson & Johnson, and more from Calibr, the drug research
arm of the Scripps Institute, as well as from other large pharmaceutical
companies. All told, there could be 20,000 to 30,000 potential medicines to
test. The hope is that just a few of those will be worth testing in humans.

The plan is for the medicines to be screened against the coronavirus in a
matter of five to six weeks. Mundel said the screening would likely be done
by the Rega Institute in Belgium.

But some of the money could be used in other ways. It could, for instance,
pay for beginning to scale up manufacturing. That said, Mundel
acknowledged, the amount of money set aside for the effort could barely
cover the cost of setting up manufacturing facilities for a single drug.
(Before joining the Gates Foundation, Mundel held a top position at
Novartis, the Basel, Switzerland-based drug giant.)

The effort is in some ways modeled on another project backed by Bill and
Melinda Gates, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives, which
focuses on the development of vaccines.

The development of both medicines and vaccines can be time-consuming — and
take several years. The fastest possible treatment on the horizon is
Gilead’s drug, remdesivir, which is already in clinical trials and could
see results as early as April. Mundel said he could imagine doses being
available by the end of the year if all goes perfectly. But the drug, which
must be given intravenously, might not be ideal for countries such as
Africa.

“Our estimate is the devastation in those countries with poor health care
infrastructure is going to be magnified dramatically,” Mundel said.

A repurposed new drug from the libraries the new effort plans to test could
be available by the beginning or middle of next year, after both small and
large studies are run to test its effectiveness and safety. Antibody
medicines, which many biotech firms are working on, could take until the
end of next year in a best-case scenario. If drugs need to be discovered
from scratch, that could add years to the process. All of those timelines
are much faster than normal drug development, and could slip. Treatments
derived from blood plasma of those who had recovered could be available
more quickly, but supplies will be limited.

With vaccines, Mundel worries that even if a vaccine is ready by the end of
next year, the need to manufacture large numbers of doses could mean it
would take several years to get it to hundreds of millions of people. He
can imagine, he said, a period of as long as six years where therapeutics
might be available, but not vaccines.

To fund any company’s work, the Gates Foundation requires that companies
pledge to make their medicines broadly available around the world. This
does not limit prices that could be charged in developed countries like the
United States. But Mundel said that executives at pharmaceutical companies
are “leery” of being seen as taking advantage of Covid-19.

“The companies that I’ve spoken to, including some of the big companies,
one of their abiding fears is that anything they do in this area would be
seen as some kind of price-gouging,” Mundel said. He added that he is
optimistic drug companies would avoid such a scenario. The bigger worry is
getting medicines that could be used to treat the sick or as a
prophylactics that can prevent infection.

The Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, Mundel said, is “a good starting
point” for speeding up drug development. “We also realize that the real
responsibility does lie with governments,” he added.  “We do believe
they’re going to step up. But it’s just going to be slow.”

The Gates Foundation will provide $50 million, part of the $100 million it
has already committed to fighting Covid-19. Wellcome will commit another
$50 million, and Mastercard $25 million.


-- 
Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org


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