Coronavirus pharma news roundup – 17/07/20

Coronavirus vaccine trials continue – but experts warn that it’s too early to get hopes up. Meanwhile, the rise in digital health looks like it’s here to stay after the pandemic. We highlight the top R&D, digital and market access news for COVID-19 from the past week.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has shrunk timelines for businesses’ adoption of digital technologies to days and weeks from years, with healthcare firms among those implementing the fastest changes, says a new survey. The poll of more than 2,500 companies around the world – carried out by digital communications specialist Twilio – found that 74% of healthcare companies had sped up their digital transformation as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Two of Pfizer and BioNTech’s potential COVID-19 vaccines have been granted Fast Track status by the FDA, a process designed to hasten their development and review.
  • Medicago has started dosing healthy volunteers in the first human trial of its candidate vaccine for COVID-19, a few days after partnering with GlaxoSmithKline on the project. The Quebec, Canada-based biotech is using a different approach with its vaccine than the other candidates in clinical testing – 22 at last count according to the World Health Organisation – as its vaccine is based on recombinant coronavirus virus-like particles (CoVLP) made in plant cells.
  • Imperial College London has said that its coronavirus vaccine could be available in early 2021. Professor Robin Shattock, who is heading the team at Imperial College that is developing the vaccine, told Sky News that he anticipates definitive trial results at the beginning of next year.
  • At the same time, though, Merck & Co’s CEO Kenneth Frazier has warned that the many COVID-19 vaccines under development are not guaranteed to work, adding that it may be too optimistic to expect one to be approved and ready by year-end. According to Reuters and other news outlets, Frazier said that those who expect a vaccine before year end are doing a “grave disservice to the public”.
  • Gilead says an unorthodox analysis of clinical trial and retrospective real-world data suggest remdesivir can improve survival in severe COVID-19 infections, but adds controlled studies are needed to confirm the finding.
  • NHS Trusts’ use of data analytics has spiked amid the COVID-19 crisis, according to a new report, which found that 84% of all NHS Trusts have been using analytics “use cases” to support patient care and operations during the crisis.
  • Meanwhile, UK health secretary Matt Hancock has said it will be “critical” for the NHS to work with the private sector to continue an uptake in use of technology such as telemedicine after the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided.
  • His comments seem backed up by a new survey showing that most patients who switched to virtual tools like video calls, online chat and apps to talk to their doctors during the pandemic want that to continue after the crisis abates.
  • Sewage monitoring is being trialled as a way to spot new outbreaks of coronavirus, and three UK companies have now joined forces to try to develop a probe for this purpose.