Despite the bad news related to COVID-19, there are some glimmers of hope. Health experts are reporting signs that the infection curve in Canada may be starting to flatten, while others are reporting increased numbers of people leaving critical care. While we should embrace the signs of hope, we can’t lose sight of the fact that until any vaccines are discovered, a significant portion of the global population remains at risk of serious illness from the virus.
That’s why the race to find treatments for those already infected is so critical. It’s also why, in these unprecedented times, we’re seeing unprecedented collaboration in the biopharmaceutical industry as companies, researchers, governments and others work together to try and find solutions to help patients.
The potential treatments for COVID-19 infection fall into four basic categories:
- Antibody therapies use antibodies created in a lab to help the body’s immune system attract disease-fighting molecules and/or promote cell destruction. The most common form of antibody therapy includes monoclonal antibodies, which are commonly used in cancer treatments. Antibody therapies could be used to recognize COVID-19 proteins and later destroy them, in either prevention or treatment measures for the virus. For example, Sanofi is in trials to treat patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms with Kevzara, a drug currently used to treat arthritis. This drug may help with the overactive inflammatory response in the lungs of patients with COVID-19.
- Antiviral therapies are specifically meant to treat viral infections. All viruses, including COVID-19, work by hijacking the reproductive apparatus of existing cells and making them reproduce the virus’s structure instead. Antiviral therapies disrupt a viral cell’s growth, preventing it from replicating itself, and effectively stopping the virus. Abbvie is currently in trials with their drug Kaletra, an antiviral used to treat HIV, for use as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
- Immunoglobulins/convalescent plasma treatments are produced by harvesting the specific blood plasma of patients who have fully recovered from COVID-19. This plasma, which contains antibodies that can fight the virus, is purified and injected into new patients to boost their immune system’s response to combat the virus. Takeda, a leader in plasma derived-therapies, is testing a plasma-based treatment that was effective for the SARS pandemic, and is working with an alliance of five other expert plasma companies to further research and develop this treatment.
- Therapeutics approved for other indications include already approved drugs and medicines used to treat other viruses and diseases. This has proven helpful in certain patients’ treatments for COVID-19. The anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, currently being tested in a number of clinical trials, including by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and the University of Alberta, is now being tested for its use as a treatment against COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine is made by a number of companies including Novartis and Sanofi.
Until vaccines are discovered, finding effective treatments will remain a priority for the international pharmaceutical industry. With the number of trials underway, there is much to hope for. Canada’s innovative medicines industry is proud to be playing its part in the discovery, development, manufacture and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for the virus.