BIO International Convention is currently ongoing and its key plenary session saw Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, provide an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The session, entitled ‘A Way Forward: Winning the War on COVID through Vaccines’, began by Fauci underlining the gravity of the pandemic, compared to his previous experience with various other virus outbreaks.
In stark terms, he described the current pandemic as, “something that turned out to be my worst nightmare – something that’s highly transmissible and that has, in a period of four months, devastated the world.”
The unexpected element of the pandemic, Fauci outlined, was how quickly it was transmitted across the globe. He noted that this was possible due to the high levels of travel taking place, especially once the virus reached Europe and the US.
Multiple vaccines and therapeutics
Despite Fauci’s grave assessment of the threat of the novel coronavirus, he was positive that the biopharma industry will manage to develop a viable vaccine. More than this, he confirmed that he expected multiple potential vaccines and therapeutics to be approved.
Fauci stated, “A lot of companies got involved and I guarantee that there is going to be more than one ‘winner’ in the vaccine field because we’re going to get need vaccines for the entire world.”
“I’m almost certain that we’re going to have multiple candidate that makes it to the goal line, get approved and widely used. I think you’re going to see the same thing with therapeutics,” he continued.
In terms of how industry can learn from the event, Fauci expressed the hope that it will imbue a ‘capability’ and ‘preparedness’ that can be carried over to any future infectious disease outbreak.
The role of the US government
In recent weeks, the US government has accelerated its involvement with leading companies developing potential vaccines and therapeutics, as well as sourcing the primary materials required to deliver these.
Fauci explained that the funding provided was a means of de-risking the companies’ involvement in producing vaccine doses at risk.
At present, a number of companies that have taken vaccine candidates into clinical trials have begun scaling manufacturing capabilities to ensure sufficient doses are produced for a global supply. In the case of AstraZeneca, this led the company to secure a supply for two billion doses of its vaccine candidate.
Access and affordability
However, with several vaccine candidates preparing to enter late-stage trials and potentially receive approval, there remains a question over pricing and access.
When asked, Fauci stated that he would not like to see pricing controls enforced onto companies, suggesting that in such a scenario, the companies would just ‘walk away’ in future.
He explained, “You've gotta have some degree profit, and that has to be taken into consideration – as long as it isn't in such an outrageous way that it completely makes something out of the realm of the people who really need it.”