When a Virus Attacks – How Pharma is Responding to the Novel Coronavirus
You can’t turn on the news without hearing an update on the growing concern surrounding the spread of the latest coronavirus (known as the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV). Since December 2019, over 9800 cases of the viral infection have been confirmed in China, with over 200 deaths reported. About 100 cases have been reported across at least 19 other countries, including 6 in the US and 3 in Canada.
2019-nCoV is a single-stranded RNA virus and is one of seven viruses found within the coronavirus family (which also includes SARS and MERS). It infects the lungs and is believed to have an incubation period of two weeks. Symptoms usually start with a fever and cough and can progress to shortness of breath and breathing difficulties leading to pneumonia (which is the leading cause of death of this viral infection).
Pharma is jumping on the call to action to find ways to help curb the spread of 2019-nCoV. Based on success with the off-label use of Kaletra (the HIV protease inhibitor combination of lopinavir + ritonavir) during the SARS epidemic and one successful case with 2019-nCoV, AbbVie has donated $1.5 million worth of their antiretroviral to China. Gilead is also looking to see if remdesivir, their investigational Ebola antiviral, may have efficacy against 2019-nCoV. Additionally, several companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Inovio are working towards developing a vaccine against 2019-nCoV. The latter two are planning to piggy-back on progress they have made towards the development of an investigational vaccine against MERS.
With lives on the line, we hope the rapid responses we have seen to date from governments, health authorities and pharma are successful! We plan to keep a watchful eye on the responses to the virus and ongoing strategies to curb its spread.