Throughout history, infectious diseases caused by pathogens such as bacteria or viruses have taken a devastating toll on the lives and security of people around the world. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world, we are experiencing a challenging situation that we haven’t seen since the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, when a third of the world’s population became infected with the virus and about 675,000 Americans died from the disease.
The biopharmaceutical industry is committed to the discovery and the development of treatments and development of vaccines for infectious diseases, despite their complicated nature. A new report finds that there are 421 medicines and vaccines in clinical development to treat or prevent bacterial and viral infections that cause infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
Among the candidates in development are:
- A broad-spectrum antiviral medicine, with in vitro activity against Ebola, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), is being studied as a treatment for COVID-19 infections.
- Two messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines are in development for the prevention of COVID-19 infections.
- A long-acting injectable capsid inhibitor is being developed as an anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV infections.
- A long-acting version of an oral integrase inhibitor is in development for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
- An antibacterial is being developed as an oral treatment for drug-susceptible mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB).
- A benzimidazole riboside compound is being developed for the treatment of cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections in transplant patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also shining a light on another area of concern: antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR is a natural process that occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change in ways such that the microorganisms are resistant to medications used to cure the infections caused by earlier, unchanged versions/strains of these microorganisms. A growing list of infections — including pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhea and foodborne diseases — are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible to treat as our current arsenal of medicines were not developed or intended to treat these resistant strains of the microorganisms that cause these infections.
At the same time as we tackle COVID-19, the public health crisis due to AMR is growing and research and development for new medicines to address it is dwindling. The lack of investment is due in large part to market dynamics that have caused investment to be insufficient to achieve a sustainable pipeline. To tackle this, the biopharmaceutical industry recently launched the AMR Action Fund. This fund aims to bring two to four new antimicrobials to market by 2030, focusing on innovative medicines that address the highest priority public health needs. This industry-driven effort will also work to drive comprehensive policy reforms that are needed to advance new reimbursement methodologies and create incentives that enable appropriate patient access, creating a sustainable ecosystem for antimicrobial R&D and commercialization.
To tackle infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and AMR, America’s biopharmaceutical companies are committed to expanding scientific knowledge and new technologies to help meet the continuing – and ever-changing – public health threat. Together, the industry is proactively working to identify potential medicines and vaccines to treat infectious diseases.
To read the full infectious disease medicines in development report, click here.
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.