BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

March 02, 2020

Research Roundup: WHO launches digital EML, coronavirus vaccine ready for testing, and coronavirus treatment study underway

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Matthew Dakin

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Last Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the first digital version of its latest Model list of Essential Medicines (EML), which provides countries with guidance on the most crucial medicines to have in supply. The EML list has been revised every two years by a group of WHO experts since 1977 but has previously only been published in print or PDF format. The new electronic format makes the EML list more accessible and easily searchable, as users can filter results and export customized lists to Microsoft Excel or Word. More than 150 countries currently use the EML list to determine which medicines best meet their national health needs to compile their own national essential medicines list.

US biotech firm Moderna has shipped its first batch of an experimental coronavirus vaccine to US government researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for initial trials that could begin as soon as April. The experimental vaccine candidate will be used in a phase 1 study in the United States, which will test two doses of the vaccine on 45 healthy people. Even if this initial clinical trial is successful, further testing and regulatory approvals would be required before the vaccine could be deployed for widespread use—a process that could take at least one year or 18 months. Moderna is among a slew of companies around the world rapidly trying to identify treatments or develop vaccines against the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China late last year, which has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide.

The first clinical trial in the United States of a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus is now underway at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. In a draft research plan published last month, WHO said this antiviral medicine remdesivir was considered “the most promising candidate” to treat the novel coronavirus, citing laboratory studies suggesting it might be able to target Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)—cousins of the novel coronavirus. Remdesivir, which is made by Gilead Sciences, is part of a study already underway in China to test its efficacy against the novel coronavirus and was previously tested in some Ebola patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo before the study was stopped. Currently, there are no proven treatments or vaccines for the novel coronavirus.

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