Pfizer CEO recommends US should plan for annual COVID-19 booster shots
FOX Business contributor Dr. Janette Nesheiwat provides insight on ‘FOX Business Tonight’
LOS ANGELES – In early 2020, as a new deadly coronavirus began spreading around the world, Pfizer Inc assembled what it called a "SWAT team" of scientists and chemists to identify a potential treatment to fight COVID-19.
The U.S. pharmaceutical giant, which had begun exploring a vaccine, also wanted to produce a pill that could stop the infection from progressing, similar to how the widely-used Tamiflu drug fights influenza. The team scoured Pfizer’s library of molecules looking for unused compounds to help jumpstart the process and quickly identified a promising candidate.
More than a year later, Pfizer has yet to embark on large-scale human trials of a COVID-19 oral treatment – something it says it hopes to start by July.
PFIZER, BIONTECH SEEK FULL FDA APPROVAL FOR COVID-19 VACCINE
Pfizer and its rivals, including U.S.-based Merck & Co Inc and Swiss pharmaceutical Roche Holding AG are racing to produce the first antiviral pill that people could take at early signs of the illness. Their shared goal: filling a key treatment hole by helping people recently-infected with coronavirus to avoid becoming seriously ill and needing hospitalization.
ROCHE HOLDING AG
MERCK & CO., INC.
GILEAD SCIENCES, INC.
But after almost 18 months of the pandemic, there is still no easy-to-administer treatment proven to be effective against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That is despite the development of a number of effective COVID-19 vaccines, including one from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE, which in December became the first to gain authorization for use in the United States.
Pfizer’s experience underscores the challenges drugmakers face in developing an oral treatment for the virus. Unlike a vaccine, which needs only to trigger the body's own immune system, an effective antiviral pill must block a virus from spreading throughout the body while also being selective enough to avoid interfering with healthy cells.
Testing antivirals is also difficult, drug company executives say. A drug needs to be given early in the course of an infection, which means finding trial participants who have recently contracted COVID-19. Many people infected with the virus develop only mild symptoms, but studies need to prove that a drug has a meaningful impact on patient health.
Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla has said the company could seek emergency authorization in the United States for a COVID-19 pill as soon as late this year.