Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19

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The Biden administration plans to invest billions of dollars in antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 and ready the U.S. to combat future viruses that have the potential to spark a pandemic, the government announced on Thursday. 

Officials committed to spending more than $3 billion on the Antiviral Program for Pandemics that aims to support and speed up the development and production of antiviral treatments for COVID-19 to reduce serious illnesses and deaths. The hope is for some treatments to be available by the end of 2021. 

The goal of the program is to produce an oral drug that Americans can take early in their COVID-19 infection to prevent hospitalizations and fatalities from the disease. Such an oral pill would operate similarly to antiviral treatments for influenza, HIV and hepatitis C.

“Having additional FDA-authorized antiviral medicines available within a year would be a major breakthrough in ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19 and protect the public,” a press release from the Department Health and Human Services said. 

Nineteen therapeutic agents will be prioritized for testing in clinical trials to treat COVID-19 patients.

The Antiviral Program for Pandemics also aims to create platforms for the innovation of other antiviral drugs to allow the U.S. to respond quicker to future viruses that could spread to pandemic levels. 

The funding for the program comes from the American Rescue Plan, which President Biden signed in March. 

The $3.2 billion includes more than $300 million for research and laboratory support, almost $1 billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation, nearly $700 million for development and manufacturing and $1 billion to form groups called Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern to accelerate the creation of antiviral drugs.

During a press briefing, Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, lauded the program, saying it will add “a line of defense against other unexpected things like variants of concern,” as well as help treat COVID-19 patients. 

“Of course, as we’ve heard so often now, over the last several briefings, vaccines clearly remained the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19,” Fauci said. “However, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for individuals with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk.”

“We have a great deal of optimism that this program will ultimately be as successful as the highly successful program that we had implemented both for HIV and for hepatitis C,” he added. 

Through Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration prioritized developing a COVID-19 vaccine over treatments as the pandemic swept the nation. Upon entering office, Biden also focused on vaccination rollout to reduce cases and deaths. 

Health officials warned during the briefing that even though 54.8 percent of American adults are fully vaccinated, unvaccinated people remain at risk of catching the virus and experiencing hospitalization or death.

Scientists tested existing antiviral drugs on COVID-19 patients early on without the trials showing any benefit effect, although researchers believe they might have been more effective in the early days of infection, The New York Times reported. 

Redesivir, a treatment originally for Ebola, is the only antiviral drug that was granted full Food and Drug Administration approval in October.

—Updated at 12:05 p.m.

Tags Anthony Fauci antiviral Antiviral drugs Coronavirus COVID-19 COVID-19 treatment Joe Biden Pandemic

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