New coronavirus tests and drugs offer glimmer of hope

New coronavirus tests and drugs offer glimmer of hope.

by Cassidy Morrison · March 31, 2020
Rapid advances in healthcare technology and drug development promise to limit the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pharmaceutical companies announced big breakthroughs for developing vaccines and anti-viral drugs in recent days, and manufacturers are creating sterilization machines to extend the lifespan of respirator masks, helping beleaguered doctors and nurses.

Johnson & Johnson announced on Monday that it aims to speed up vaccine development, which normally takes five to 15 years, and get authorization from the Food and Drug Administration as soon as early 2021 for emergency use against the virus.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has cautioned against excessive optimism that a treatment or vaccine will become available in less than 18 months but said in Monday’s White House press briefing that a vaccine could be ready late this year or early 2021, in the next flu season.

“We have a vaccine that’s on track and multiple other candidates, so I would anticipate that [in] a year to a year and a half, we’ll be able to do it under emergency use,” Fauci said, adding, “If we start seeing an efficacy signal, we may be able to even use a vaccine at the next season.”

Johnson & Johnson will spend more than $1 billion to fund vaccine research with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Test kit manufacturers have also received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for high-speed test kits that can give people coronavirus test results in minutes. Last week, the FDA granted emergency use approval to Abbott for a test kit able to deliver results in as little as five minutes.

The test, unlike other high-throughput tests developed for hospital use, is conducted in a portable 7-pound box to be used in doctors’ offices and urgent care clinics. The company aims to deliver 50,000 tests a day to hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics from next week.

Medical technology and pharmaceutical companies have obtained emergency FDA authorization for test kits swiftly in the wake of public criticism of the Trump administration for not making test kits widely available to patients with the flu-like symptoms of COVID-19. Healthcare workers have been short of masks, gloves, coveralls, and other personal protective equipment. The administration is working to remedy this.

Auto companies, clothing makers, and others have transitioned factories to make masks. The FDA has given Battelle, an Ohio nonprofit group, authorization to distribute a machine that sterilizes used masks in hospitals and clinics.

“Each machine, now, can disinfect 120,000 masks per day. Now, think of that,” Trump said in a Rose Garden briefing on Monday. “It’ll be just like a new one. It can go up to about 20 times for each mask. So, each mask can go through this process 20 times.”

Releasing recommendations Saturday, doctors at the American Enterprise Institute said America is still in phase one of the pandemic, in which the focus must be on “slowing the spread” by encouraging social distancing, self-quarantine, and good hygiene. The next phase begins only after a 14-day period in which no new cases arise, and then hospitals can treat all patients as they would patients with other illnesses, and everyone can be tested if needed.

Recent drug and technology advances offer hope that the country can move beyond that first phase. More than 160,000 people have been infected in the United States, and more than 2,950 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

On Monday, the State Department announced it had arranged the repatriation of about 25,000 people stranded overseas. Officials said 100 flights had been scheduled to bring them home.

At home, Maryland and Virginia became the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders. It means about three-quarters of the population will soon be told to stay indoors unless on essential business, such as buying food or seeking medical care.

Meanwhile, Wall Street made a good start to the week with the three big indices in positive territory. Gains were led by health stocks, including Johnson & Johnson, which surged 8% after its announcement on the vaccine.

Rob Crilly contributed.

Washington Examiner · by Cassidy Morrison · March 31, 2020

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