The share price of Moderna is up 6% compared to the end of last week, at the time of writing, as the market reacted to the news that Phase I trials for its mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 were a success.
Only a few days prior, Oxford University was able to post results showing that its vaccine promoted an immune response in rhesus macaques, leading to further investment by the UK government to prepare for large-scale manufacture.
As such, progress towards finding a viable vaccine against the novel coronavirus is building steam; however, it has been widely suggested that no single vaccine will be sufficient and even these could take into next year, or longer, to be delivered to populations.
In the meantime, as well as multiple vaccines being needed, one CEO told BioPharma-Reporter that multiple therapies will also be necessary to ensure patients who are critically ill with COVID-19 can be effectively treated.
As a result, the progression of a pipeline with numerous treatments and vaccines is more important than ever.
To keep an eye on how this is progressing, BIO created a therapeutic development tracker.
At the current time of writing, there are 522 unique compounds* in development against COVID-19, which is broken down as 226 treatments, 161 antivirals, and 135 vaccines. In terms of development, 351 of these are preclinical compounds and 171 are in the clinic.
There has been an explosion of compounds being investigated for COVID-19 since the seriousness of the pandemic became apparent. As of the end of January, there were just 11 candidates under investigation – three antivirals and eight vaccines.
By March, this had just jumped to 211 drug candidates, which then doubled again in April, to 411. Growth of the pipeline slowed slightly moving into May, though nearly a hundred new candidates were added to bring the total at the end of the month to 509.
The surge in potential treatment and antiviral candidates did not arrive overnight – the tracker reveals that 92% of treatments had been redirected or repurposed towards COVID-19, with 46% of antivirals also being retooled in the same way. For vaccines, it is a different story: fully 97% of vaccines were specifically created against COVID-19.
Provenance of research
The tracker also provides information about where the therapies have been developed, through identifying where the companies involved have their headquarters.
Given the US’ position as a hub both for R&D and as a market, it should be no surprise that it currently holds the highest number of therapies. With 255 drug candidates, companies headquartered in the US hold just under half of the entire pipeline.
The next largest home is where the first instance of the virus was discovered, in China – the country currently has 39 therapies in the works.
Beyond this, there are numerous further candidates spread across Europe, with the UK (24), Switzerland (25), Germany (24), and France (13) having double-digit numbers in the pipeline.
In a recent webinar put out by BIO, the organization’s VP of industry analysis, David Thomas, provided a preview of his session at BIO International Convention, entitled ‘State of emerging therapeutic company investment and deal-making’.
During the presentation, Thomas reviewed the current pharma market, in terms of investments being made into the industry and pipeline reviews. The number of treatments in development for COVID-19 was an obvious main talking point.
“I have never seen this many drugs in one indication before, it’s quite astonishing, and it shows you the industry’s overwhelming response to address the COVID-19 outbreak,” Thomas said of the state of the pipeline.
In regard to the chances of the successful development of a therapy or vaccine from these options, he characterized the situation as ‘hopeful’.
“When you talk about probability, when you have this many shots on goal, we’re pretty hopeful that something is going to come of [the research],” he concluded.
Further than this, Thomas noted the impact that the novel coronavirus had made on the review of treatments currently seeking approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“We have had delays in the US. The FDA has moved some PDUFAs [Prescription drug user fee act], a lot of them by three months – pushing them into the summer. We don’t have as many approvals at this point, as we did last year,” Thomas said.
Despite this, he noted that approvals could rebound in the second half of the year, resulting in a ‘very strong year’ should timetables return to normality later in the year.
* Updated: The figures in this article have been updated to reflect new statistics released by BIO on June 1, 2020. Comments by BIO's David Thomas were also included.