Pfizer finds COVID-19 drug candidate, plots summer testing

Pfizer building
(Tracy Staton)

Pfizer has found a leading experimental drug candidate against SARS-CoV-2 and is planning to test the drug in the coming months.

This is according to The Wall Street Journal, which was told the facts by Pfizer’s R&D chief Mikael Dolsten in an interview with the financial paper.

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He told the WSJ that early R&D has shown its candidate blocks the new virus, which causes COVID-19, from replicating, with hopes it could slow or stop the spread of the virus in patients with mild to moderate symptoms.

The work is very early stage, but the Big Pharma plans to start human testing this summer to assess whether it can help. This forms part of a major R&D exercise by the company, which is also partnered up with German mRNA biotech BioNTech for a potential new type of vaccine and is assessing a repurposed version of its rheumatoid arthritis drug Xeljanz.

“I feel confident that we will win, battle by battle, to turn around this viral war against our society,” Dolsten said in the interview.

The pharma mostly walked away from antiviral research more than 10 years ago, following many other companies that saw little ROI in the area. Now, it has ramped up 50 researchers from various departments to work on treatments for the novel coronavirus, although it tells the WSJ that in order to limit interactions among personnel, the “company’s coronavirus team has yet to meet in person.”

Dolsten said Pfizer will look to kick-start trials in patients from August. “Time is urgent here,” he said. “Every hour, every day counts.”

Pfizer and BioNTech also gave further details over their vaccine development plans Thursday morning. The pair, which made a quick pact a few weeks back, said they plan to jointly conduct clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine candidates initially in the U.S. and Europe across multiple sites. These should start this month.

“During the clinical development stage, BioNTech and its partners will provide clinical supply of the vaccine from its GMP-certified mRNA manufacturing facilities in Europe,” the companies said in a statement.

“BioNTech and Pfizer will work together to scale-up manufacturing capacity at risk to provide worldwide supply in response to the pandemic. BioNTech and Pfizer will also work jointly to commercialize the vaccine worldwide (excluding China which is already covered by BioNTech’s collaboration with Fosun Pharma) upon regulatory approval.”

BioNTech gets $185 million upfront payments, with $563 million on the table in the form of biobucks.

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