Research focused on finding viable solutions to counter the COVID-19 pandemic continues at an explosive pace with a total of 588 potential therapeutics and vaccines at the forefront of scientific efforts launched by industry, academia and government.
The question of prices for a COVID-19 vaccine have raged in recent days. Gary Disbrow, acting director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), told members of a Senate committee that vaccines developed with the help of taxpayer funding will come with an appropriate reduction in price. However, CDC Director Robert Redfield emphasized that the cold-chain distribution system for those products requires the same kind of at-risk investment that is used for vaccine development.
The push for a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic may have no parallel in pharmaceutical history, and FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn vowed in a Senate hearing that the agency will rely on the agency’s traditional standards for scientific evidence in premarket reviews of those vaccines.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee met again June 23 to discuss the federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and one clear signal that emerged from the hearing is that Congress will have to provide annual funding to build a sustainable infrastructure for vaccine development and manufacture if the nation is to deal appropriately with the next pandemic.
Before the lessons of COVID-19 fade into yesterday’s news, Congress should start preparing for the next pandemic, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is advising. As the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the senator issued a white paper Tuesday identifying areas that must be addressed.
During a massive disaster or a pandemic, securing the necessary manufacturing capacity, needles, syringes, vials, properly labeled caps, reagents and other supplies is as critical as the development of the product itself. Some experts have been warning about these needs since COVID-19 first began spreading outside of China. Now members of Congress are sounding the alarm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded much of the FDA, and commissioner Stephen Hahn said on a June 1 conference call that “there have been hiccups along the way” as the enormity of the threat came into view. The agency’s use of emergency use authorizations (EUAs) has drawn criticism, but Hahn defended those EUAs and other regulatory flexibilities even has he declared that the FDA is not “walking away from” randomized, controlled clinical trials as the gold standard for premarket review.
Scaling up to manufacture a massive volume of a COVID-19 vaccine, drug or innovative device that’s still in early stage development is easier said than done, especially in a global pandemic that has the supply chain stretched beyond capacity.
The May 12 Senate hearing regarding the COVID-19 pandemic included the usual conversations about contact tracing, but Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that one of the vaccines currently in trial in the U.S. will work, but that it is unlikely a vaccine will be ready by September 2020. In contrast, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said testing capacity may reach 50 million tests per month by that time, thanks in part to the fact that antigen testing is now part of the FDA’s emergency use authorization mechanism.