Coronavirus pharma news roundup 27/03/2020

pharmaphorum highlights this week’s biggest pharma news from the COVID-19 epidemic, as life science companies scramble to find treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus.

  • 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.
  • Scientists from the University of Oxford say they have identified a potential vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and are working towards the first clinical trials.
  • Gilead has stopped accepting “compassionate use” requests for its potential coronavirus antiviral remdesivir because it cannot keep pace with demand as health systems become overwhelmed.
  • Gilead has also rescinded its orphan drug status request for remdesivir amid a furore over its pricing should it get to market. By asking for orphan status the US pharma sparked concerns that it would charge a premium price for remdesivir, which is being trialled against the disease.
  • NVIDIA has made its Parabricks genome-sequencing software available at no charge to researchers sequencing the coronavirus and the genomes of those suffering from COVID-19.
  • AbbVie has said it won’t defend patent rights to its HIV therapy Kaletra in the hope that it can be made more widely available for patients affected by coronavirus.
  • However, a clinical trial of Kaletra in China found little benefit when the drug was added to standard of care for COVID-19 patients.
  • Eli Lilly has become the first big pharma company to enforce a wholesale halt to the start of new studies during the outbreak, saying it will suspend most clinical trials for the time being in light of the strain being placed on healthcare systems around the world. Meanwhile, other pharma firms and biotechs have halted specific trials.
  • Sanofi’s Pasteur vaccines unit has joined with the US biotech Translate Bio to announce a partnership to develop an mRNA vaccine against the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • South Korea’s Celltrion is working on an antibody-based antiviral and a self-testing diagnosis kit providing results within 15-20 minutes.
  • The FDA has approved two fast tests for coronavirus, which are able to produce results within hours instead of days.
  • A public-private partnership, led by investment bank Jefferies, has been set up to tackle the problem of getting drugs or vaccines safely and securely into the hands of those who need them. The RAPID initiative aims to set up the capacity to fill and finish hundreds of millions of prefilled syringes, with various projects under consideration that could yield results within six months, according to HHS.
  • Mylan’s merger with Pfizer’s off-patent drug business has been delayed until later this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The companies said the merger, which was originally due to close midway through this year, will be delayed until the “second half” of 2020, although the companies gave no precise timeline.
  • Digital healthcare firm LIVI has launched a free and secure web-based platform to add capacity to pressurised health systems and help clinicians interact with patients self-isolating at home.
  • The US government has shaken up access to telemedicine services to make it easier for people to get advice remotely, without having to visit medical facilities overstretched by the COVID-19 pandemic. Central to the changes is that the Medicare health insurance programme – which covers older people as well as younger patients with chronic health conditions – will temporarily reimburse virtual healthcare consultations at the same rate as in-person visits.
  • And in the UK, research from the University of Warwick says that video consultations with GPs are a viable alternative during social distancing measures, although technical challenges and lack of resources are hindering use of the technology.
  • UK-based ‘Virtual doctor’ firm Babylon Health has introduced a digital care assistant to advise people how to diagnose and manage suspected COVID-19 infections.