Big Pharma companies join forces for fightback against COVID-19

A who’s who of leading biopharma companies have joined forces to strengthen the drug industry’s response against the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies including Novartis and Pfizer are contributing to the joint response through actions including the sharing of proprietary compound libraries.

With the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus spreading quickly around the world, some of the companies best equipped to help mount a fightback against the pathogen have joined forces with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The companies held a conference call with leaders at the Gates Foundation earlier this month, leading 15 businesses to commit to sharing parts of their compound libraries.

All of the shared compounds already have some degree of safety and activity data. The Gates Foundation, working through the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator it set up with Wellcome and Mastercard, will screen the libraries in search of compounds that may work against COVID-19.

If a drug shows promise, the collaborators plan to move it into in vivo testing within two months. The involvement of companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Sanofi means promising assets will have the support of organizations that are well-versed in advancing and scaling up compounds.

Details of the collaboration emerged on the same day BioCentury reported that the R&D heads of 10 or more biopharma companies have been meeting several times a week to coordinate a joined-up response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort is reportedly split into five working groups focused on clinical-phase repurposing, novel small-molecule antivirals, novel antibodies, preventive vaccines and preclinical repurposing.

Asked about the reported meetings, Andrew Powaleny, director of public affairs at PhRMA, referred to the Gates Foundation initiative and areas of cooperation between biopharma and other groups involved in the global response to COVID-19.

“Collaborations such as the one between a number of leading biopharmaceutical companies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are important to facilitating research and development towards combatting COVID-19. Innovative biopharmaceutical companies are coordinating with governments and diagnostic partners to increase COVID-19 testing capability and capacity, rapidly screening our vast global libraries of medicines to identify potential treatments, developing new therapies for those infected with the virus and working to develop a vaccine to prevent future infections,” Powaleny said.