COVID-19: Exploring Industry Efforts and Collaborations
List Mar 31, 2020 | By Molly Campbell and Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne, Science Writers, Technology Networks
The world is facing a health crisis of an unprecedented scale. The COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has rapidly spread across the globe and caused thousands of deaths.
In this critical time, the healthcare industry is being relied upon more than ever to deliver innovative strategies for the development of diagnostics, preventatives and therapeutics against COVID-19. This is extraordinarily challenging as SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus; therefore, scientists have had to work to understand the virus, its biochemistry, how it infects humans and how it spreads.
In this list, we highlight the efforts of five healthcare companies working to tackle the outbreak of COVID-19.
Johnson & Johnson
In February 2020, Johnson and Johnson stated that, in an attempt to discover treatment solutions for COVID-19, Janssen: Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson will be expanding its existing partnership, with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) – an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This collaboration further supports Janssen’s work screening existing antivirals which aims to discover promising compounds with activity against SARS-CoV-2 – the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Janssen will harness the high-throughput screening expertise of the Rega Institute for Medical Research (KU Leuven), located in Belgium, to investigate these compounds.
“We must engage in rigorous research and development in order to identify therapeutic candidates with antiviral activity against the novel coronavirus. Our ambitious goal is to bring forward a solution for patients and ensure future generations do not have to live in fear of the potentially serious consequences of COVID-19.” – Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson in a press release.
In March 2020, Johnson and Johnson announced a collaboration between Janssen: Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). This new venture’s primary aim is to accelerate the development of a preventive vaccine for COVID-19. Preclinical testing of potential vaccines is ongoing – the parties aim to identify a candidate suitable for clinical development by the end of March, and Janssen’s longer-term mission is to initiate a Phase 1 clinical study by the end of 2020. In preparation for a potential vaccine launch – the company is in parallel to its vaccine development efforts, scaling up manufacturing capabilities to ensure they can meet future global vaccine demand.
“It is critical to work with the best scientific minds as we look to rapidly identify and develop solutions to the COVID-19 outbreak.”On March 27, 2020, Johnson & Johnson and the Johnson & Johnson Foundation announced a $50 million commitment to help doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers treating patients across the globe during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We are grateful for talented and experienced collaboration partners like Dan Barouch and his team at BIDMC. By mobilizing our collective resources, we believe we can leverage the top science and cutting-edge capabilities to respond to this pandemic.” – Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson, in a press release.
“Those at the front lines are our colleagues, family members, customers and partners – so we join the millions around the world who put them front and center right now, to support them as they provide care amidst COVID-19.” – Michael Sneed, Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs and Chief Communication Officer, in a press release.
In recent weeks, Novartis have announced a comprehensive set of actions to support the global response against the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, Novartis created a $20 million global fund to provide grants of up to $1 million to support communities across the globe that have been most impacted by COVID-19. The grants will support public health initiatives that are designed to provide aid to communities in managing the wide variety of challenges imposed by the pandemic. The company will look to support initiatives including (but not limited to) the following areas:
- Strengthening local and national healthcare infrastructure including funding of additional medical personnel, sourcing of medicines and medical equipment
- Establishing digital platforms for COVID-19 related data collection, remote delivery of healthcare and effective dissemination of important public health information
- Creating new or enhancing new community health programs specific to the pandemic response
Novartis has developed an accelerated review process that will enable fast approval and subsequent disbursement of grants.
“We are dealing with an extraordinary and unprecedented public health crisis that requires an incredible level of involvement and collaboration across government, society and business. As a medicines company present in over 140 countries, we are stepping in to provide additional financial support to critical community or national programs that can help address urgent public health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic." – Vas Narisimhan, CEO of Novartis, in a press release.In addition to the funding scheme, Novartis also announced that it will be collaborating with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate the development, manufacturing and delivery of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.
In March 2020, Pfizer outlined its comprehensive five-point plan to battle COVID-19 and called for the biopharmaceutical industry to collaborate in combating COVID-19.
"Pfizer is working to advance our own potential antiviral therapies and is engaged with BioNTech on a potential mRNA coronavirus vaccine. We are committed to work as one team across the industry to harness our scientific expertise, technical skills and manufacturing capabilities to combat this evolving crisis." – Dr Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, in a press release.In the five-point plan, the company makes five promises to help scientists bring forward therapies and vaccines – both to protect humanity against COVID-19 and to help prepare the industry against potential future crises. Their promises are:
- Sharing tools and insights
- Marshaling Pfizer experts
- Applying drug development expertise
- Offering manufacturing capabilities
- Improving rapid responses
In addition to the five-point plan, Pfizer also announced a collaboration with BioNTech to co-develop a potential mRNA-based vaccine aimed at preventing COVID-19 infection, BNT162. The vaccine candidate is anticipated to enter clinical testing by the end of April 2020.
“This is a global pandemic, which requires a global effort. In joining forces with our partner Pfizer, we believe we can accelerate our effort to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to people around the world who need it.” – Ugur Sahin, Co-Founder and CEO of BioNTech, in a press release.
In March 2020, Roche announced that its cobas® SARS-CoV-2 Test had received FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). The test provides qualitative detection of Sars-CoV-2 in nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swab samples. It was also made available in markets that accept the CE mark for patients presenting with signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and for those living in SARS-CoV-2 affected areas. Roche stated that, at the current maximum production rate, it can supply millions of tests per month.
"Providing quality, high-volume testing capabilities will allow us to respond effectively to what the World Health Organization has characterized as a pandemic."On March 19, 2020 Roche issued a media release announcing that they were working with the FDA to conduct a Phase 3, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in collaboration with BARDA, to evaluate the safety and efficacy of Actemra®/RoActemra® (tocilizumab) plus standard of care in hospitalized adult COVID-19 patients who have developed severe pneumonia compared to placebo plus standard of care. Actemra®/RoActemra® is an anti-IL-6 receptor biologic.
"It is important to quickly and reliably detect whether a patient is infected with SARS-CoV-2. Over the last weeks, our emergency response teams have been working hard to bring this test to the patients. CE-mark certification and the FDA’s granting of EUA supports our commitment to give more patients access to reliable diagnostics which are crucial to combat this serious disease.” – Thomas Schinecker, CEO of Roche Diagnostics, in a press release.
"We are initiating a clinical trial to study Actemra/RoActemra for the treatment of people hospitalized with COVID-19 pneumonia, so that we can better establish the potential role for Actemra/RoActemra in fighting this disease." – Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., Roche’s Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product Development, in a press release.
In February, Sanofi revealed that the company was partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a novel COVID-19 vaccine. They will utilize work from previous work developing a SARS vaccine to drive development of a COVID-19 forward. Similarly to Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi will be collaborating with BARDA.
“Addressing a global health threat such as this newest coronavirus is going to take a collaborative effort, which is why we are working with BARDA to quickly advance a potential vaccine candidate,” – David Loew, Global Head of Vaccines at Sanofi, in a press release.
In March 2020, Sanofi announced their partnership with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to clinically evaluate the fully-human monoclonal antibody Kevzara® (sarilumab) as a treatment for patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19. Sarilumab works by inhibiting interleukin-6 (IL-6) signaling by blocking its receptor. There is speculation that IL-6 may be helping drive overactive inflammatory responses within the lung cavities of patients who are particularly badly affected by COVID-19. This suspected role of IL-6 is supported by preliminary data gathered from a study conducted in China.
"At Sanofi, we are taking a leading role in addressing the global challenge of COVID-19 disease. Scientific evidence has emerged to suggest that Kevzara may be a potentially important treatment option for some patients, and this trial will provide the well-controlled, rigorous scientific data we need to determine if IL-6 inhibition with Kevzara is better than current supportive care alone.” – John Reed, M.D., Ph.D., Sanofi's Global Head of Research and Development, in a press release.The Phase 2/3 trial will be multi-center, double-blind, and placebo controlled, and will adopt an “adaptive design” consisting of two parts. The first part will recruit patients diagnosed with severe COVID-19 infection to determine the antibody’s impact on fever and patients' need for supplemental oxygen. The second part will assess longer-term improvement. On March 30, 2020 Sanofi issued a release stating that the first patient outside of the US had been treated as part of the global clinical program evaluating Kevzara® (sarilumab) in patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19.
On March 27, 2020, Sanofi announced the collaboration of its vaccines global business unit with Translate Bio, to develop a novel mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.