Covid-19 roundup: WHO scientist portends it will be ‘years’ before Covid-19 threat will be contained; French biotech kicks off big study with oral drug

Painting a grim picture at the Financial Times’ Global Boardroom digital conference, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist predicted it will take some four to five years before Covid-19 is controlled.

Apart from therapeutics, there is a feverish effort to develop a vaccine globally, with some scientists hoping to have an early taste of data by the end of this year or early 2020. Pretty much all researchers agree that a safe and effective vaccine is the only way out of the crisis, but production and equitable distribution hurdles remain.

On Wednesday, the WHO’s Soumya Swaminathan indicated a myriad of factors would determine how long the threat of the coronavirus will remain in play, including whether it mutates, the containment measures imposed and whether a vaccine is developed.

Peter Piot, professor of global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was also speaking on the FT panel and is himself recovering from the viral infection, said countries should be thinking about the situation in terms of years, not months, and find ways to change the paradigm from lockdowns to more “granular, targeted types of interventions,” according to the FT report.

He also stressed the importance of testing, in line with the WHO’s recommendations. There is “no option but to invest more in testing,” Piot said.

France’s Abivax kicks off big Covid-19 trial with drug that is engineered to have a three-pronged attack on Covid-19: antiviral, anti-inflammatory and tissue repair

With the French drugs and ethics agencies signing off on a 1,034-patient placebo-controlled phase IIb/III trial, called miR-AGE, of the company’s experimental drug, ABX464, Abivax is hoping the drug will help prevent severe inflammation that leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome in elderly or high-risk patients suffering from Covid-19.

The Parisian biotech’s oral therapy, which is also being evaluated as a treatment for ulcerative colitis, has been shown to upregulate miR-124, a “physiological brake” of inflammation, as well as tamp down cytokines involved in the Covid-19 cytokine storm. Separately, in vivo data suggest ABX464 inhibits replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, the company said.

“Unfortunately, no prophylactic or therapeutic treatment has shown much efficacy in any rigorous trial to treat the severe form of COVID-19; helping clinicians prevent respiratory distress and death in COVID-19 patients and limit longer-term pulmonary damage is of paramount necessity,” said Abivax chief Hartmut Ehrlich in a statement. “The robust, rigorous design of the miR-AGE ABX464 trial ensures we will draw valid scientific and medical conclusions …We already have ABX464 capsules in stock to treat app. 50,000 patients and could scale-up ABX464 manufacturing for over one million patients within months.”

Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir is the only drug that has been granted emergency use authorization in the United States (it is also under review at the EMA) on the basis of placebo-controlled clinical trial data. However, only the top-line numbers have been released; the detailed data are still to come. Meanwhile, distribution and access are fraught, with its maker donating its initial supply of doses for roughly 140,000 patients to the federal government, because there is no portal for hospitals to apply for access to the medicine or outlined criteria for how the drug will be distributed and to whom, causing consternation and despair for doctors and patients alike.

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