Anthony Fauci said he hopes doctors can prescribe them as a common remedy. If the research results are good, the drugs could be available later this year.
The United States will invest 3.2 billion dollars in the development of antiviral pills against the COVID-19 disease, as announced on Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services of the North American country.
The treatment could prevent hospitalizations and potentially save many lives in the coming years, as the coronavirus remains a threat despite the development and application of vaccines.
Other viruses, such as the flu, HIV, and hepatitis C, can be treated with a simple pill. However, in the coronavirus case, after more than a year of research, there is no medicine to combat the disease. According to U.S. media The New York Times, Operation Warp Speed, the program of former President Donald Trump to accelerate research on COVID-19, invested much money in developing vaccine treatments.
The new influx of money will speed up clinical trials of several promising drugs. If all goes well, some of those pills could be available later this year. The Antiviral Program for Pandemics will also support the research of totally new drugs, not only for the coronavirus but for viruses that could cause future pandemics.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the leading promoters of the program, said he hopes that coronavirus patients can pick up their antiviral pills from a pharmacy as soon as they know they are PCR positive or when they start. To develop symptoms compatible with COVID-19.
I get up in the morning; I don't feel well, my sense of smell and taste goes away, I have a sore throat. I call my doctor and tell him: 'I have a quid, and I need a prescription. Fauci explained in an interview quoted by The New York Times explain the process to obtain the antiviral.
Fauci's support for antiviral pill research comes from his own experience fighting AIDS three decades ago. In the 1990s, his institute conducted research that led to some of the first HIV antiviral pills, "protease inhibitors" that block an essential protein in the virus and can keep it at bay for a lifetime.
In the early 2000s, researchers found that an antiviral called sofosbuvir could cure hepatitis C by almost 100%. Tamiflu, an over-the-counter flu pill, can shorten the recovery time from infection and reduce the chances that the flu could land a person in the hospital.
With the coronavirus epidemic, researchers began testing antivirals in people infected with the coronavirus. But in many of these trials, antivirals did not work. In hindsight, the decision to work in hospitals was a mistake. Scientists now know that the best time to try to fight the coronavirus is in the early days of the illness when the virus replicates rapidly, and the immune system has yet to put up a defense.
So far, only one antiviral has shown a clear benefit for hospitalized people: remdesivir. The drug appears to shorten the course of the disease when administered intravenously. Last October, it became the first and only antiviral drug to be licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19. However, it was not recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Last year, government funding for coronavirus treatments focused on few candidates, such as monoclonal antibodies and remdesivir. Many other antiviral studies were small and underfunded. But since January 2021, the Joe Biden administration began designing a new program dedicated to antivirals, according to The New York Times.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that it would buy 1.7 million doses of molnupiravir from drugmaker Merck at $ 1.2 billion, provided the FDA clears the current trial. According to David Kessler, scientific director of the Biden administration's COVID-19 response team, the government may seek similar agreements for two other antivirals that are well advanced in clinical trials.
One of the drugs the government is considering is AT-527, developed by Atea Pharmaceuticals. The compound has already been shown to be safe and effective as a hepatitis C treatment. Early studies suggest that it might also work against COVID-19. Roche has partnered with Atea to examine it in people. The companies are currently conducting an advanced-phase clinical trial.
The other drug under evaluation was created by scientists at Pfizer, adapted from a molecule initially designed in the early 2000s as a possible anti-SARS drug. The scientists decided to modify its structure to work against the new coronavirus protease.
The drug had been designed to be taken intravenously, but Pfizer managed to alter its structure to make it work as a pill. When the mice were given the drug orally, it reached levels high enough in the body to block the coronavirus. Pfizer launched a clinical trial in March to study its safety in people and expects to move to further testing in July.