The Biden administration on Thursday announced it would invest more than $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan to accelerate the discovery, development and manufacturing of COVID-19 antiviral medicines -- ideally like a pill someone could easily take at home early in an illness.
"Vaccines clearly remained the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19, however, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for individuals with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk for those whom vaccines may not be as protective," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters during a White House COVID-19 briefing.
Fauci continued: "We know that there are many people who are immunosuppressed in which vaccines, at least initially, may not give an optimal response. And it also adds a line of defense against other unexpected emerging things like variants of concern that we are currently dealing with."
The Antiviral Program for Pandemics aims to develop safe and effective antivirals to combat COVID-19, and will help develop antivirals against other viruses with pandemic potential, according to NIAID. Widespread availability of highly effective oral antiviral pills that can be taken at home could save lives and prevent surges in hospitalizations, according to the institute.
The administration will invest more than $300 million for research and lab support, nearly $1 billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation and nearly $700 million for development and manufacturing through NIAID and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. It will also allocate up to $1.2 billion to support the creation of Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern - collaborative drug discovery groups that will drive antiviral drug discovery and development, according to NIH.
"An easily administered oral antiviral drug would be an important part of our therapeutic arsenal that would complement the great success of our vaccine efforts. Our Administration is going to harness the power of American ingenuity to spur the creation and development of these drugs that can save lives both here in the United States and around the world," Dr. David Kessler, chief science officer for the Biden administration's COVID-19 response, said in a statement.
Thursday's announcement is part of the Biden administrations effort to support the development of therapies to treat COVID-19. About 44% of the total US population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and variants are threatening to derail progress the nation has made in combating the pandemic.
The administration announced last week it committed to purchasing around 1.7 million courses of Merck's investigational COVID-19 oral antiviral, molnupiravir, if it received emergency use authorization or approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
If the treatment receives FDA EUA or approval, Merck will receive around $1.2 billion to supply around 1.7 million courses of the drug, according to a news release by Merck. The company expects to have over 10 million courses of the treatment available by the end of the year.
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