- Antiviral drugmakers Gilead and GlaxoSmithKline are collaborating with groups working to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, announcing in recent days initial steps to assist in the development and testing of therapies against the viral pneumonia-like disease.
- GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's largest producers of vaccines, on Sunday evening said it would make its vaccine adjuvant technology available to companies and universities partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations on coronavirus vaccine development.
- Gilead, meanwhile, is working with Chinese health authorities to set up a randomized clinical trial in the country of its experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown some potential in animal studies against the related coronaviruses MERS and SARS.
Both Gilead and GSK's announcements are small, initial steps to join the global effort to identify effective countermeasures against a virus that's rapidly spread from its origin in Wuhan, China to nearly two dozen countries.
Yet the two drugmakers bring deep experience in antiviral research and development and the global reach that many of the dozen or so biotechs working on coronavirus therapeutics lack. (Fellow large pharma peer Johnson & Johnson has also begun work on a vaccine.)
Gilead, in particular, has drawn attention for the potential of its antiviral drug remdesivir. A case report published Jan. 31 in the New England Journal of Medicine described the therapy's use in treating a Washington man who contracted the novel coronavirus after a visit with family living in Wuhan.
The man, who suffered from fever, cough and intermittent nausea, ebbed following treatment with remdesivir, although it's not clear whether he was already beginning to recover at the time of the drug's administration.
For its part, Gilead has emphasized that no antiviral data exists showing activity against the Wuhan coronavirus, often referred to by the technical name 2019-nCoV.
Preclinical testing in animal models showed remdesivir was active against both MERS and SARS, two viral pathogens that share genetic similarities with 2019-nCoV.
In addition to announcing its collaboration with Chinese authorities on a clinical trial, Gilead also said it would speed laboratory testing of remdesivir.
Shares in the company rose by as much as 8% Monday morning on apparent optimism remdesivir could prove effective, although at least one Wall Street analyst urged caution.
"While [Gilead] seems to have as good a shot as any at this point to address 2019-nCoV given prior pre-clinical data demonstrating remdesivir activity against coronaviruses, we aren't sure yet if the single patient clinical anecdote is as supportive as press reports have indicated," wrote Steven Seedhouse, an analyst at Raymond James, in a Feb. 3 note to clients.
GSK, while it hasn't launched internal vaccine developments, will work to aid groups partnered with CEPI, agreeing to provide technology designed to make vaccines more effective.
The British drugmaker's adjuvant systems are added to vaccines to strengthen the immune response, potentially boosting immunity conferred by treatment and allowing for more doses to be produced from a limited supply of vaccine antigen.
Australia's University of Queensland is the first CEPI-partnered group to formalize an agreement with GSK, which will supply its AS03 adjuvant system to the university. GSK uses AS03 with its H1N1 and H5N1 influenza vaccines.
Although it hasn't begun any internal research, a company spokesperson confirmed to BioPharma Dive it would continue to review its portfolio to "see if there is any research that could be of help."
"We will also stay vigilant in following the 2019-nCOV outbreak closely to assess whether other licensed GSK products could potentially be of use in an evolving situation," the spokesperson added, giving as an example antibiotics that could be used to treat secondary infections resulting from illness with the coronavirus.
Since its initial outbreak in Wuhan, 2019-nCoV has spread to 23 countries outside of China. Nearly 15,000 infections are confirmed, and the virus has killed 305 people, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization, which last week declared a global public health emergency.