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A fight against time: Coronavirus vs Biotechnology


11th Mar 2020

At the time of writing, over one hundred and eighteen thousand cases of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) have been confirmed worldwide and this number is expected to rise significantly.

In response to the outbreak, pharmaceutical companies and research organisations are racing to develop new vaccines and repurposing existing anti-viral drugs.

Repurposing existing drugs will likely be the quickest way to find a treatment for the novel coronavirus. There are large libraries of compounds which, in spite of therapeutic effectiveness, never made it to clinical trials for their intended use. One such compound is remdesivir, an anti-viral drug developed by Gilead Sciences in the SARS and MERS outbreak, which had previously been safety tested.

Researchers at The Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the city at the centre of the outbreak, have applied for a national patent for the use of remdesivir in the treatment of Covid-19. So-called second medical use patents are becoming increasingly popular because of the large costs associated with development of new chemical entities and the potential for existing compounds to be effective in treatments other than those for which they were originally intended. To obtain a second medical use patent of remdesivir, the applicants will have to provide a credible story of effectiveness of the drug on the coronavirus strain Covid-19, and that this is different to its known effect on other viruses.

Approval of an effective vaccine, on the other hand, could take a lot longer – but not as long as we might think. Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical company Inovio, who back in 2016 broke the World Health Organisation record by producing a vaccine for Zika virus from bench to patient in 7 months, are applying their patented DNA sequencing electroporation delivery technology, aiming to beat their own record and create a Covid-19 vaccine. Just three hours after receiving the viruses genetic sequence, Inovio had a fully designed DNA vaccine against the coronavirus.

But developing an effective vaccine and successfully repurposing an anti-viral is just the start. Both candidates will have to pass thorough clinical trials in humans and gain approval from appropriate regulatory bodies before they can be manufactured on a global scale and be suitable for human administration. For remdesivir, a license for the umbrella patent owned by Gilead would be required if third parties were to manufacture or sell the drug. Despite the challenges that lie ahead for pharmaceutical companies and research organisations, the response to the outbreak has been one of the quickest in history. The race to produce a vaccine or treatment is still running, but with the help of the technology being used it appears we might be closer than ever before.

 

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

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Tessa Ryder
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