We have a bounty of vaccines and more on the way, but drugs that treat the disease are vital too if we want to keep people alive and bring the pandemic under control.
by Cassandra Willyard, MIT Technology Review
The global effort to develop vaccines against covid-19 has been a scientific triumph. The search for new therapies, however, has had far less success.
More than a year and a half into the pandemic, few treatment options for covid-19 exist, and those that are available seem to have only modest impact on the course of the disease.
Vaccination rates may be high enough in some wealthy countries to put herd immunity within reach, but the need for new therapies is still urgent. The virus is raging in some countries with limited access to vaccines. And even in places where they are widely available, pockets of unvaccinated people remain. “The need for treatments for all stages of the disease is, in fact, more pronounced than ever,” says Rachel Cohen, North American executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), a program aimed at developing new medicines for diseases that have historically been ignored by pharmaceutical companies. “Never in the history of infectious-disease control have we been satisfied with just one set of tools.”
New drugs might help people with early cases of covid avoid hospitalization, “especially in places where ICU and hospitalization capacity is very limited,” Cohen says. They might also prevent those who are hospitalized from dying.
New therapies could also be a crucial stopgap if SARS-CoV2 mutates enough to evade the immune response in people who are vaccinated. And there’s another reason to keep hunting for new medications. SARS-CoV2 is the third coronavirus to make the jump from animals to humans in the last 20 years. “This may not be the last coronavirus that we see,” says Michael Diamond, a virologist at the Washington University School of Medicine.
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