US to spend $3.2B on treatments for COVID-19, other viruses

The United States is devoting more than $3 billion to speed development of treatments for COVID-19 and other dangerous viruses

WASHINGTON — The United States is devoting $3.2 billion to speed development of antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 and other dangerous viruses that could turn into pandemics.

The new program will invest in “accelerating things that are already in progress” for COVID-19 but also would work to come up with treatments for other viruses, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. He announced the investment Thursday at a White House briefing.

“There are few treatments that exist for many of the viruses that have pandemic potential,” he said, including Ebola, dengue, West Nile and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

But he added, “vaccines clearly remain the centerpiece of our arsenal.

The U.S. has approved one antiviral drug, remdesivir, specifically for COVID-19, and allowed emergency use of three antibody combinations that help the immune system fight the virus. But all the drugs have to given by IV at hospitals or medical clinics, and demand has been low due to these logistical hurdles.

Health experts have increasingly called for a convenient pill that patients could take themselves when symptoms first appear. Some drugmakers are testing such medications, but initial results aren’t expected for several more months. The new funds will speed those tests and support private sector research, development and manufacturing.

Several other companies, including Pfizer, Roche and AstraZeneca, are also testing antiviral pills.

The currently available drugs have mostly been shown to help patients avoid hospitalization or shorten their recovery time by several days.

Until this week, the only medicines shown to boost survival were steroids given to patients sick enough to need extra oxygen and intensive care. But on Wednesday, U.K. researchers reported that one of the antibody combinations successfully reduced deaths in a large study of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

News of the Biden administration’s plans for the antiviral pills was first reported by The New York Times.

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