Pharma giants including Novartis collaborate on COVID-19 therapies


A consortium of life sciences companies including pharma giants such as Novartis and Johnson & Johnson, are to collaborate to develop and manufacture vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19 in a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

There are no approved therapies for COVID-19, the sometimes deadly respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The 15 companies have agreed to share their proprietary libraries of molecular compounds that already have some degree of safety and activity data following a conference call with the Gates Foundation earlier this month.

The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator launched by the Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard two weeks ago will quickly screen them for potential against COVID-19.

Successful hits would move quickly into preclinical trials in as little as two months.

Novartis’ CEO Vas Narasimhan, who is co-chairing the consortium, said: “In addition to the individual contributions companies are already making, collective action is critical to ensure any promising studies into vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics are quickly scaled to people around the world who are affected by this pandemic.”

Companies participating include BD, Boehringer Ingelheim, bioMerieux, Eisai, Eli Lilly, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, US-based Merck & Co (MSD), German Merck (Merck KGaA), Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi.

India bans chloroquine exports

Trials of several drugs to treat coronavirus are already under way – and one of the candidates is hydroxychloroquine and similar drugs used to treat malaria that may also have an antiviral action.

US pharmacists have already reported a shortage of hydroxychloroquine, which is a well-established generic drug in malaria.

Indian authorities have said they have temporarily banned the export of the drug while it is being tested as a treatment for coronavirus.

The country is prioritising supply of the drug that has been hailed by US president Donald Trump as a potential game-changer – even though there is scant clinical trial evidence to support its effectiveness and well-known issues with toxicity.

Treatment tracker

The US-based Milken Institute has launched a COVID-19 treatment and vaccine tracker, which has identified 16 new treatments in the pipeline along with nine new vaccine candidates since launching a week ago.

Two potential vaccines have advanced to clinical trials. They are being developed by US-based Moderna and China's CanSino Biologics. In addition, the World Health Organization announced the global SOLIDARITY trial to develop treatments for the disease.

In total, the Milken Institute is now tracking 71 treatments and 47 vaccines in development. Treatments are grouped into candidate categories, including antibodies, antivirals, cell-based therapies, among others.

The COVID-19 Treatment and Vaccine Tracker is produced and maintained by FasterCures, a centre of the Milken Institute, with an Advisory Council comprised of three former FDA chiefs, a Nobel Laureate biologist, and key industry leaders.