Coronavirus pharma news roundup 15/5/20

This week saw some mixed news in coronavirus research as questions were raised about access to COVID-19 drugs as studies – and approvals – continued apace. Here we highlight the biggest stories of the past seven days.

  • Sanofi’s CEO Paul Hudson has courted controversy by saying the French pharma’s potential COVID-19 vaccine will likely be delivered to the US government first should it succeed in clinical trials. In an interview with Bloomberg Hudson pointed out that the US had been the first to fund research after expanding a vaccine partnership with Sanofi in February.
  • This prompted French president Emmanuel Macron to summon Hudson and Sanofi’s top management to a meeting next week to explain themselves after a health minister said it was “unacceptable” for the US to be prioritised.
  • Scientists have warned that the main drugs being repurposed for COVID-19 could end up being too expensive for many people around the world – unless drugmakers are prepared to sell them at cost or close to it. The team crunched the numbers on the front-runner coronavirus drugs to see just how much it should cost to manufacture them, and concluded that they could all be made for less than $1.50 per day, and for just cents in some cases.
  • Japan’s regulator has quickly approved Gilead’s remdesivir for patients with severe COVID-19, after the FDA allowed its use as an emergency treatment for the disease earlier this month.
  • There are doubts about the US government’s plans to have 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses ready by the end of the year, after the front-running candidate from Moderna advanced to mid-stage clinical trials. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, who like Trump is a Republican, appeared to question whether the plan was viable in a TV interview.
  • In a landmark study, thousands of NHS patients will have their DNA studied to see how a person’s genetic profile plays a role in susceptibility to COVID-19. The study – spearheaded by Genomics England and Edinburgh University – will focus on people who get severely-ill with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It will sequence the genomes of 20,000 severe cases, and compare the findings to 15,000 individuals with mild-to-moderate symptoms.
  • Global vaccine development organisation CEPI is to invest $384 million additional funding in a COVID-19 jab being developed by Novavax. This is the largest investment so far by the not-for-profit Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and follows an initial $4 million invested in March.
  • A finger-prick blood test that identifies people previously infected with the new coronavirus – offered by Babylon Health – is now available to anyone in the UK willing to pay a £69 fee.
  • The future of UK’s COVID-19 contact-tracing app is in doubt after teething problems. More than 40,000 people on the Isle of Wight have been testing the app for a week, but many residents reported issues with downloading and receiving false alerts.