Research Roundup: Study finds malaria drug helps improve COVID-19 patients, J&J and Moderna sign deals with US to produce coronavirus vaccines, and FDA authorizes 15-minute coronavirus test
Last week, doctors in China reported that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine helped to speed the recovery of a small number of patients who were mildly ill from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Symptoms such as cough, fever, and pneumonia went away faster, and the disease was less likely to become severe in people who received hydroxychloroquine than in a comparison control group that did not receive the drug. The study was small with just 62 individuals, limited to patients who were only mildly or moderately ill, and excluded patients with underlying conditions that could be made worse by hydroxychloroquine. The authors of the report noted hydroxychloroquine is a promising treatment for COVID-19 but that more research is required, including on how it works in treating the disease and how best to use it.
The US government has made deals with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Moderna Inc—and is reportedly in talks with two other companies—to prepare them to mass produce coronavirus vaccines before one that is safe and effective has even become available. Last Monday, J&J announced a US$1 billion deal to create enough manufacturing capacity to produce more than one billion doses of a vaccine candidate that will not begin testing until September. This effort will be funded in part by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Moderna, which has already begun human clinical trials of a vaccine candidate supported by the National Institutes of Health, also signed a deal with BARDA—an agency which ultimately plans to support five or six experimental vaccine candidates with the hopes of having two or three successful ones. There are currently no approved vaccines for COVID-19, and experts have estimated it could be 12 to 18 months before one receives regulatory approval.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a new coronavirus test that takes only 15 minutes. The test from Abbott runs on its point-of-care ID NOW platform and weighs less than seven pounds, so it can be easily deployed to disease hotspots. This test is one of the fastest tests for COVID-19 available and comes just weeks after FDA EUA approval of a 45-minute rapid point-of-care test. Abbott plans to deliver 50,000 tests per day starting last week and plans to produce about five million tests per month. Public health experts say that a key factor in ending the spread of coronavirus is to dramatically increase testing. A lack of availability of COVID-19 test kits has been a point of contention in the United States, which now has the largest number of COVID-19 cases of any country in the world.