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Trump Asks Pharma Firms to Step Up Coronavirus Vaccine Work

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President Donald Trump, along with his coronavirus task force, met executives of several pharma companies at the White House on Monday. The meeting was originally intended to discuss the drug pricing issue. However, the President told reporters that he would instead use the meeting to know about the progress on a possible 2019-nCoV vaccine. At the meeting, he asked pharmaceutical companies to speed up work on developing a coronavirus vaccine as the death toll has increased in the United States.

It is believed that executives from pharma bigwigs, Gilead (GILD - Free Report) , Johnson & Johnson (JNJ - Free Report) , Regeneron (REGN - Free Report) , Sanofi and Pfizer among others were present at the meeting. All these companies are working on making vaccines or treatments for the virus.

With the situation in China getting worse and the risk of global coronavirus outbreak rising, faster development of vaccines is the need of the hour. In the United States, more than 90 people have been infected and six people have died.

Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (“CEPI”), a public-private nonprofit organization, has provided funding to biotechs like Moderna (MRNA - Free Report) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals for developing a 2019-nCoV vaccine. Moderna, last week, said that it has already shipped the first batch of its potential 2019-nCoV vaccine (mRNA-1273) to NIAID for phase I testing in just 42 days from sequence selection.

Apart from CEPI funded biotechs, several others like J&J, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK - Free Report) and Regeneron have expressed interest in developing a vaccine for 2019-nCoV. The companies investing heavily in 2019-nCoV vaccine development are testing if their existing/pipeline vaccines for flu or infectious diseases like SARS (also caused by a coronavirus) could prove effective in halting 2019-nCoV’s spread.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has recommended Gilead’s investigational antiviral candidate, remdesivir as partial remedy to the coronavirus though it has yet not been proven that the candidate can treat the disease. The leading biotech announced last week that the FDA has accepted its investigational new drug (IND) filing seeking approval to study remdesivir for the potential treatment of 2019-nCoV. As a result, Gilead initiated two phase III studies, which will evaluate two dosing regimens of remdesivir in adults diagnosed with 2019-nCoV.

Another small biotech Vaxart (VXRT - Free Report) initiated a program to develop oral tablet vaccine candidates based on the published genome of 2019-nCoV on its proprietary oral vaccine platform, VAAST. 

Novavax (NVAX - Free Report) is trying to leverage its proprietary recombinant nanoparticle vaccine technology to generate antigens derived from coronavirus spike (S) protein and has created 2019-nCoV vaccine candidates, which are presently being developed in pre-clinical studies. It plans to advance 2019-nCoV vaccine candidate to phase I testing in May/June.

However, none of these vaccines are expected to be available before a year’s time. In this context, Trump has encouraged executives to shorten the timelines for bringing a vaccine to market while keeping safety in mind. He went on to say that it is likely that a therapy will be available before a vaccine is ready. He said that the coronavirus outbreak is also an opportunity to bring manufacturing back to America. The drug companies showed interest in working together to develop a vaccine/treatment to fight coronavirus.

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