Research Roundup: ACT Accelerator therapeutics priorities, COVID-19 vaccine agreements, and a potential nasal spray prevention method
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A World Health Organization (WHO) draft document indicates that the WHO-led Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator’s drug-supply scheme is prioritizing experimental antibody treatments and steroids while leaning away from remdesivir. The mechanism—one of four ACT Accelerator pillars working to scale COVID-19 health technologies—is co-led by Unitaid and the Wellcome Trust and is dedicated to securing and supplying COVID-19 therapeutics worldwide with an emphasis on equitable distribution. The scheme’s list of priorities outlined in the draft document says efforts will focus on advancing research and manufacturing of monoclonal antibodies and boosting distribution of the steroid dexamethasone, and does not mention remdesivir among priority drugs. The therapeutics pillar is also still working to reach its US$7.2 billion funding goal, $6.1 billion of which is unmet, and aims to distribute hundreds of millions of COVID-19 treatment regimens to lower-income countries by 2022.
A recent analysis from researchers at Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center found that high- and middle-income countries have purchased 3.8 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, with options for 5 billion more, potentially leaving people in low-income countries without access until 2024. The study suggests that these direct deals between countries and drug manufacturers, known as advance purchase agreements, are exacerbating “vaccine nationalism” and undermining the equitable distribution efforts of mechanisms like the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, a sub-mechanism of the ACT Accelerator. More than 150 countries, including many that have also made separate country-specific vaccine deals, have signed on to join the COVAX Facility, which aims to develop and equitably distribute 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021.
A nasal spray under development to prevent COVID-19 infection was shown to be effective in blocking absorption of SARS-CoV-2 in ferrets exposed to the virus, according to a research team from Columbia University Medical Center, Erasmus Medical Center, and Cornell University. The spray is designed to intervene in the virus’ process of attaching to airways or lung cells by fusing itself to an amino acid chain on the virus’ spike protein, thereby blocking viral attachment. In the very small animal study, the spray prevented all direct-contact transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during a 24-hour exposure period, indicating potential for the product to protect against COVID-19 infection in humans, although the research is still preprint and pre-peer review. Based on the promising animal results, researchers hope to secure additional funding that would allow them to expand tests of the nasal spray into human trials.