The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Thursday that it is allocating $3.2 billion toward the discovery, development and manufacturing of antivirals as part of its strategy to support the next-generation of COVID-19 treatments, according to a FirstWord report. “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,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), adding that the investment will help “build on the extraordinary success we have seen in developing the COVID-19 vaccines.”
Fauci indicated that the plan, dubbed the Antiviral Program for Pandemics, would invest in “accelerating things that are already in progress” for COVID-19, but also would work to innovate new therapies for other viruses, with some candidates possibly arriving by year’s end.
Better preparing for future pandemic threats
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 the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). It will also allot up to $1.2 billion to support so-called Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern so they can create platforms that will initially target coronaviruses, but then potentially be extended to “other viruses with pandemic potential.”
As part of the plan, HHS said the National Institutes of Health will advance prioritised antiviral candidates into Phase II trials, using its contract resources and the agency’s own laboratories to help de-risk early-stage development. It noted that via the existing public-private ACTIV partnership, 19 therapeutic agents have been prioritised for testing in clinical trials for outpatients and inpatients with COVID-19.
HHS also highlighted a recent deal by the US government to procure 1.7 million courses of Merck & Co.’s COVID-19 therapy molnupiravir for around $1.2 billion, should the treatment eventually be authorised by the FDA. Merck has said it expects to have more than 10 million courses of the therapy available by the end of the year. Several companies, including Pfizer, Roche and AstraZeneca, are also testing oral formulations of antiviral medicines.