‘Missed opportunities after Sars and Mers to develop coronavirus antivirals’

Opportunities were missed after the Sars and Mers outbreaks to develop drugs capable of fighting against viruses like Covid-19, an expert has said.

Dr Nick Cammack, Covid-19 therapeutics accelerator lead at Wellcome, hopes that lessons have been learned and that researchers can find effective antivirals for coronaviruses.

Speaking at a briefing about the progress of Covid-19 treatments, Dr Cammack said the pipeline line for antivirals is “bare”.

Explaining why this may be the case, he said: “(It is a) new virus.

“We missed an opportunity with Sars in 2003, we missed an opportunity with Mers in 2011/12, both of which are from the same family of viruses as Covid-19

“And here we are in 2020 with a global pandemic.

“I hope the world is going to learn its lesson and find the effective antivirals for this family of viruses, because while I hope Covid-19 is the last family member to torment us it probably won’t be.”

He added: “And because there’s been no work on this family of viruses, there are no antivirals out there.”

Dr Cammack also said that as well as a vaccine, there is a great need for treatments, and Covid-19 specific treatment.

He explained that medication for all stages of the disease is needed – drugs that will stop people having to go to the hospital, drugs that will get patients out of hospital quickly if they are admitted, and drugs that will prevent people from progressing on to critical care and intensive care.

Dr Cammack said “huge efforts” have been made by the pharmaceutical companies both on the vaccine side, and in the monoclonal antibody side to move as quickly as they can.

He added that, in the next few months, there will be data on the different monoclonal antibodies that are being evaluated.

These antibodies which are produced in a lab, are molecules that are engineered to act like the body’s natural antibodies, working in support of the immune system.

Dr Cammack said: “For me, these are really exciting because these are the first exquisitely specific drugs for the virus.”

However, he added that more funding is needed for treatments, with some estimates suggesting work into vaccines has received six times as much funding as work into therapeutics.

He said: “And we’re at risk, as I’m thinking about the whole world, of having a real deficit of high-quality, new treatments for Covid-19.”

Dr Cammack concluded: “There’s a lot to do in the treatment space for which there needs to be global funding, and the engagement of large and small companies with the expertise to find those treatments.”