Biden administration to spend $3.2 billion on antiviral pills for Covid

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President Joe Biden speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 29, 2021.

Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. is investing $3.2 billion to advance the development of antiviral pills to treat Covid-19 and other viruses that have pandemic potential, the Biden administration announced Thursday.

The new program – called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics – is a “whole-of-government effort” that will speed up clinical trials of promising drug candidates and develop next-generation treatments for Covid and other viruses that could cause future pandemics, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a news conference.

As part of the plan, the National Institutes of Health will “evaluate, prioritize and advance” antiviral candidates to phase two clinical trials and “guide candidates along development paths,” according to a separate announcement from the administration.

Vaccines remain “the centerpiece” of the U.S. arsenal against Covid, who is also director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters during a White House briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. “Antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for people with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk” or are immunosuppressed, he added.

While vaccines have been highly effective in driving down infections in the U.S., officials say the nation still needs more treatments for people who do get infected with the virus and for those whose immune systems don’t respond well to vaccines.

A number of treatments for Covid are in development and could be distributed in the U.S. by the end of the year. Pfizer, for example, began in March an early stage clinical trial testing an experimental oral drug to treat Covid at the first sign of illness.

The drug is part of a class of medicines called protease inhibitors and works by inhibiting an enzyme that the virus needs to replicate in human cells. Protease inhibitors are used to treat other viral pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C.

The Biden administration’s 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 the NIAID and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Additionally, the plan allocates up to $1.2 billion to support the creation of drug discovery groups that will target coronaviruses and potentially other viruses.

“The remarkable and rapid development of vaccines and testing technology has shown how agile scientific discovery can be when we combine the resources of public agencies, private entities, and our nation’s most brilliant and creative minds,” NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins, said in a statement.

“We will leverage these same strengths as we construct a platform for the discovery and development of effective antivirals that will help us defeat COVID-19 and better prepare us for potential future viral pathogens,” he added.

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