COVID-19 race. World pharmaceutical companies have started a new chase: for drugs to treat COVID-19

    19 Oct 2021

    First of all, let us introduce the newest hopeful message: the WHO representative has named the probable date of the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Hans Kluge, director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Regional Office, said the world would emerge from a coronavirus pandemic in 2022. He said this in an interview with the STV TV channel on 17 October.

    “I am an optimist; I believe that next year the pandemic will subside, but, of course, the coronavirus will remain, and we might have to live with it. But you know, it’s like the flu. There are flu vaccines. Every year new strains emerge, but people get vaccinated – and that is okay. It is important to learn our lessons so that the pandemic will not break out again,” Kluge said.

    According to him, it is essential to learn from your mistakes and learn some lessons.

    “For the pandemic not to happen again, health care must be paramount in every country. No economy, security, or peace is possible without good healthcare and good health. We need to invest in healthcare,” Kluge added.

    He also noted that there is a plateau for vaccination n 35 of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region.

    “That is, the number of vaccinated people is no longer growing. We need to identify people in the population who are not vaccinated and why,” Kluge said.

    Medical treatment against COVID-19 is coming

    What will be the cure for COVID-19? Let’s read the opinion of Chas News columnist.

    On October 18, CNN announced that at least eight countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea, had entered into agreements with Merck to purchase Molnupiravir – an unregistered pill against COVID-19. The drug is intended for emergency prophylaxis – that is, after contact with a person who is likely to suffer from “corona” or to prevent severe symptoms at the first sign of illness. According to preliminary data, the drug significantly reduces the likelihood of symptoms in the case of prevention and reduces the risk of severe disease by 48% if symptoms have already appeared.

    Moreover, Merck has already stated that it will license its production to Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers after the drug is approved. They will make the drug available to more than 100 of the world’s poorest countries, including almost all African countries. And although Merck is less effective than vaccines in preventing severe forms of COVID-19, it has a significant advantage. It is a pill that is easy to transport and can be given to people in areas where vaccination coverage is still low.

    Medicines for COVID-19: several contenders for victory at once

    Thanks to vaccination, COVID-19 now does not seem to be as terrible disease as it was in 2020. This can be seen at least in the example of Great Britain, where a few months ago, humanity saw the largest outbreak in Europe, caused by the “Delta” variant. So, at the peak of the outbreak – in late July – an average of 47 thousand new cases and about 60 deaths were registered daily. That is, about 0.1% of those infected died.

    Although in the UK during the previous, second, wave in January 2021 at the peak recorded up to 60 thousand new cases, and died at the peak of the “crown” about 600 people a day. That is, the mortality rate was ten times higher than now. And this despite the fact that in winter, in Britain circulated a less contagious strain of “Alpha.”

    The drop in death toll from COVID-19 by ten times in the UK should be due to mass vaccination – as of the end of July, there was a completely vaccinated 56% of the population.

    Vaccination is now the only reliable way of protection from the severe effects of COVID-19. However, although rare, there are cases when the vaccine does not cause intense immunity against COVID-19. This is most often the case in the elderly or people with weakened immune systems – for example, in cancer patients and general people with severe comorbidities. Such people in the United States and Europe are advised to administer a third dose of the vaccine.

    However, pharmaceutical companies are looking for a way to reduce the risk of serious illness in at-risk groups. And as at the end of last year, they competed over who would be the first to launch the COVID-19 vaccine and make money on it. So now, a new race has begun.

    COVID-19 cures, what are they?

    Simply put, the latest drugs against COVID-19 can be divided into two major groups. The first are chemical compounds that act on one of the viral proteins, inhibiting its activity, thereby slowing down the reproduction of the virus.

    The second is a complex of synthetic antibodies similar to those produced in a sick person. But with improved gene therapy methods, they attach better to the virus than natural ones and are easier to store for long periods. Such drugs are now widely used in oncology. The only difference is that the antibodies do not act on the virus but on a specific area on the surface of malignant cells.

    At the beginning of the pandemic in Wuhan, medical workers tried to treat people with severe COVID-19 by transfusing their blood plasma with antibodies from patients who had already recovered. This treatment method was then widely used in the United States as part of the so-called “extended access program.” This was when the patient’s consent was administered experimental drugs, the effectiveness of which against COVID-19 has not yet been proven. For example – ivermectin (anthelmintic), which, according to some studies, may have antiviral activity.

    However, to date, the effectiveness of using human plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 has not been proven. This can be explained by the fact that plasma is usually transfused to severe patients in the later stages of the disease when the “crown” causes significant damage to the body. At the same time, the introduction of antibodies is primarily beneficial at the beginning of the disease. The antibodies created in the laboratory do not have these disadvantages.

    Molnupiravir is a pill fever

    Imagine that you have found a recipe for a favorite dish from a famous chef and want to cook it on the Internet. You have already bought the necessary ingredients, and you are learning what to do with them. But a hacker program suddenly turns on your computer and changes the product’s name in the recipe.

    The drug acts on enzymes involved in the copying of viral RNA. Instead of genetic material that encodes a new virus, there is complete nonsense, based on which it is impossible to create new proteins.

    Molnupiravir was initially developed as a drug for influenza, but further research was abandoned in the trial phase because it was found that several such compounds can cause mutations. However, later it turned out that this does not apply to molnupivir itself.

    Because the drug affects the RNA of the virus, it has shown efficacy for the treatment of other diseases caused by RNA viruses, including the first SARS.

    Studies of the efficacy of molnupiravir for the prevention of severe COVID-19 lasted more than a year. In mid-October, Bloomberg reported that the US Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would consider the issue of drug registration on November 30.

    In the United States, which has also pre-ordered the drug, a course of treatment with molnupiravir of 40 pills will cost $712. However, generics made in India will be much cheaper – $12-15 per course. That is why this drug is optimistically called by the world media “a drug that will break the pandemic.”

    REGEN-COV, also known as the cure for Donald Trump

    On October 14, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that the REGEN-COV dossier, co-created by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roshe and biotech company Regeneron, be considered for priority consideration. A few days earlier, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced the review of this drug. And on September 14, it was approved for use by the WHO.

    This drug consists of two modified antibodies, prototypes of which are isolated from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

    It is worth noting that REGEN-COV in the United States last year allowed for “limited” use in patients at high risk of complications. For example, Donald Trump received this drug last year.

    REGEN-COV is now planned to be approved for use in a broader range of older people or patients with weakened immune systems. It should be noted that the drug is not used to treat severe cases of the disease but to prevent them – for example, after contact with a patient with COVID-19 or at the first symptoms of the disease.

    The only thing that prevents the rapid spread of the drug around the world is the price, which ranges from $2.1 thousand per vial of 10 doses in Germany to $820 in India (setting different drug prices for countries with varying levels of wealth is common practice for pharmaceutical companies). In the United States itself, the government recently ordered an additional 1.4 million vials of the drug for $2.94 billion.

    However, after WHO approval, the manufacturer promised to revise the price for poor countries.

    And what about the rest?

    Shortly humanity may see the registration and drug use against COVID-19 from the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines against COVID-19: the Swedish-British AstraZeneca. The drug, codenamed AZD7442, as in the previous case, is a mixture of two modified human antibodies. And it will also be used for emergency prevention and prevention of severe forms of the disease in at-risk groups. According to clinical studies, the drug can reduce symptoms by 77% compared with placebo. On October 14, the EMA began reviewing the dossier for this tool. The company also said that on October 5, it submitted a dossier for the drug to the FDA. The price of potential drugs against COVID-19 is not yet known.

    At one time, GlaxoSmithKline refused to develop a vaccine against COVID-19; there were already too many competitors in the market. But now, the manufacturer can take revenge. The anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody Sotrovimab, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, was approved in May 2021 for “limited” use by the FDA. This drug is also used in Kuwait and the UAE. And on October 4, 10,000 doses of the drug were purchased by the Government of Canada. The price of sotrovimab in the United States is $2.2 thousand per bottle.

    The data obtained during clinical trials on the effectiveness of drugs against COVID-19 are pretty encouraging. However, they are not always possible to extrapolate to real life. For example, the search for a cure for the flu has been going on for decades. But the invented drugs can only slightly reduce the severity of the disease if they are taken at the beginning.

    The same may be true of COVID-19. It is worth remembering at least the story with the monoclonal antibodies Bamlanivimab and Etesevimab from the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. They have also proven their ability to reduce the risk of severe illness and received FDA approval last year.

    Currently, the most reliable and safest way to protect yourself from COVID-19 remains vaccination.

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