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$3.2 bn plan will support the development of COVID pills. (Photo: Pixabay)

COVID-19 pill: Can we expect to get it by end of year?

A vaccine protects you from a virus and the severity of a disease. Medicine cures you when you fall sick. Imagine buying a pill from the nearest pharmacy after showing the symptoms of COVID-19. That is what the American Rescue Plan is, for which the Biden Administration is investing more than $3 billion intending to accelerate the discovery, development and manufacturing of antiviral medicines for the treatment of COVID-19.

It will be called the Antiviral Programme for Pandemics to respond to the urgent need for antivirals to treat COVID-19 by spurring the availability of medicines to prevent serious illness and save lives. It also aims to build sustainable platforms for finding and evolving antivirals for other viruses with pandemic potential in the future. The programme is being collaborated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

Influenza-like oral antiviral pill for treatment of COVID-19 soon?

Once developed, the highly effective oral antiviral medicine can be taken early in the course of infection. It will be similar to antiviral treatment for influenza saving lives and the need for the hospitalisations. This plan will support research to identify and accelerate availability of breakthrough treatment.

The programme is supported by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He said, “New antivirals that prevent serious COVID-19 illness and death, especially oral drugs that could be taken at home early in the course of the disease, would be powerful tools for battling the pandemic and saving lives.” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President and NIAID Director.

Clinical trials underway to test prioritised drug candidates

Notably, the efforts are underway to support clinical trials to test prioritised drug candidates for COVID-19 and support the advanced development of promising therapies.

So far, 19 therapeutic agents have been prioritised for testing in rigorous clinical trials for outpatients and inpatients with COVID-19. And hopes are high that the FDA-authorised antiviral medicines will be made available within a year. In the process, last week the Biden administration announced to buy more than 1.7 million doses of an antiviral medicine being made by Merck, if it received emergency use authorisation.

“An easily administered oral antiviral drug would be an important part of our therapeutic arsenal that would complement the great success of our vaccine efforts,” says Dr. David Kessler, Chief Science Officer for the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Response.

Phase 2 clinical trials of candidates after NIH evaluation

As part of the plan announced on Thursday, the NIH will evaluate, prioritise and advance antiviral candidates to Phase 2 clinical trials. The plan provides more than $300 million for research and lab support, nearly $1 billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation, and nearly $700 million for development and manufacturing through NIAID and BARDA.

Additionally, the plan allocates up to $1.2 billion to support the creation of collaborative drug discovery groups called Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern.

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