Building on deep scientific knowledge gained from decades of experience with viruses such as MERS, SARS, influenza, HIV and Hepatitis C, biopharmaceutical companies have made unprecedented progress in advancing treatments and vaccines to help fight COVID-19. At this time, three vaccines and several treatments have received emergency use authorizations (EUAs) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with one treatment receiving FDA approval. Additional candidates under investigation have also shown promise.
Behind this rapid progress are advances in technology and understanding about the nature of the immune system, which have allowed us to more rapidly respond to the current pandemic compared to previous episodes. For instance, it took just a few months to have the first vaccine candidates to test against the coronavirus, compared to 20 months to have a vaccine ready to test in SARS patients a decade ago. Moreover, all of the vaccines that have received EUAs so far rely on groundbreaking platform technology meaning once a genetic target is identified from a new infectious agent, the platform can be used to quickly create prototype vaccines to move into preclinical and clinical testing.
A recent article[i] published in the Wall Street Journal examines how research conducted to develop the COVID-19 vaccines could lead to future breakthroughs for other infectious diseases and conditions. It noted:
- “The pandemic has opened a new era for vaccines developed with gene-based technologies, techniques that have long stumped scientists and pharmaceutical companies, suggesting the possibility of future protection against a range of infectious disease.”
- “New vaccine technologies spurred by the pandemic are leading efforts to combat COVID-19 and herald a new arsenal of weapons for fighting lethal viruses in the future, infectious-disease researchers said, another example of how the fight against [the novel coronavirus] has supercharged technological development.”
- “For years, vaccines for such infectious diseases as measles and polio were made from the viruses they targeted, in versions scientists rendered harmless. The shots rally the immune system by exposing people to the targeted virus. Yet such vaccines could take a decade or longer to develop, and manufacturing them took months. … The [COVID-19] vaccines offer several advantages over shots using older technology. They seem to activate not just the antibodies that neutralize a virus but also the memory and T-cells that keep the immune defense alert for the long-term.”
For decades, biopharmaceutical companies have advanced science, investing in new technology, research and medicines, which have become crucial to fighting the pandemic. The potential COVID-19 treatments and vaccines are just one example of how America’s innovation ecosystem leads the way to treat and defend against disease in all its forms.
[i] Wall Street Journal, Covid-19 Vaccines Yield Breakthroughs in Long-Term Fight Against Infectious Disease, February 28, 2021 https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-vaccines-yield-breakthroughs-in-long-term-fight-against-infections-disease-11614537238
Andrew Powaleny is Senior Director of Public Affairs at PhRMA and leads the organization's scientific communications. Before joining PhRMA in 2015, he worked in public affairs for a small firm in Washington, DC and served as Deputy Press Secretary for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Andrew came to Washington, D.C. via Connecticut with a degree from Eastern Connecticut State University where he majored in public policy and government. Andrew is active as a runner and volunteer with the DC Front Runners; most recently serving on its Board of Directors for three years as co-race director. He is also a member of the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and mentors students through his alumni association with The Fund for American Studies. Andrew is passionate about scientific innovation, especially for mental illness, and his heroes are the men and women of America’s biopharmaceutical research companies.