While COVID-19 vaccinations are on the rise, case numbers remain stubbornly high – the United States is still averaging roughly 70,000 new cases each day and infections continue to spike around the world. There are many theories circulating about how long the pandemic will last. Some scientists believe the coronavirus will become an endemic virus and will remain present in pockets of the global population for years to come, and one study published in the journal Science earlier this year, suggests “once most adults are immune — following natural infection or vaccination — the virus will be no more of a threat than the common cold.” Regardless, these speculations come to the same conclusion: COVID-19 is here to stay.
The life sciences has experienced great success so far throughout COVID-19 vaccine research and development. However, there is currently no evidence that suggests vaccination or previous infection confers lifelong immunity, and the emergence of variants threatens the ongoing response to the pandemic. The studies of the currently authorized vaccines have shown that efficacy can wane in the presence of the existing variants, also bringing into question how they may affect the duration of immunity. As the industry continues to test immunity duration, produce booster shots, and develop multivalent vaccines to address new variants, therapeutics and antiviral treatments can help mitigate a resurgence of sick patients. As long as there are cases of COVID-19 in circulation, in any form, there will continue to be a need (and enormous market opportunity) for treatments.
Early in the pandemic, monoclonal antibody treatments proved effective in addressing symptomatic infection. However, the time it took for the treatment to be prepared, transfused, and for the patient to be monitored – all while in a hospital setting – limited the access and equitable distribution of these treatments. Now, new therapeutic innovations offer hope for a breakthrough in treating the novel coronavirus. Antibody cocktails administered as an injection have demonstrated efficacy in reducing the progression and presence of COVID-19, but the next biggest hurdle will be ensuring a supply consistent enough to meet the demand. Additionally, several biopharma companies have begun testing an oral therapeutic to treat the virus, with one candidate already showing promise when used in the early stages of the disease. Like a “Tamiflu” for COVID-19 that that can be delivered outside of a hospital setting, drug manufacturers can reach a broader swath of patients through readily accessible therapeutics, such as these, and improve equity for treatment – both now and well after the pandemic subsides.
It is widely expected that the world will need a robust and evolving pipeline of COVID-19 vaccines for years to come, but alongside these vaccines will be a consistent demand for innovative therapeutics. It is incumbent upon the industry to deliver these therapeutics in a manner that will ensure even the most remote and/or underserved populations can access them.
There is no one consensus on what the “end” of the pandemic will look like, but whether it’s cases below a certain threshold, or when it is commonplace to go without a mask, the life sciences will continue to play a key role in saving patient lives and solving the world’s greatest public health crises.