Expert group makes strong case for medical-countermeasures network
Broad-spectrum antiviral therapeutics should be a priority, the pandemic preparedness members argue in The Lancet.
By READDI, September 18, 2023 — “Therapeutics are crucial due to multiple uncertainties about the next pandemic; the world should invest accordingly.” That’s a key takeaway from a newly published article in The Lancet, “The 100 Days Mission: how a new medical-countermeasures network can deliver equity and innovation.”
The Science and Technology Expert Group, an international coalition of pandemic preparedness experts, authored the September 5 commentary. The group was convened to help implement the 100 Days Mission, endorsed by the G7 leaders in June of 2021 and supported by the International Pandemic Preparedness Secretariat.
To efficiently and equitably prepare for future disease outbreaks, the authors propose a global network that focuses on three primary medical countermeasures — diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
Swift action during the first 100 days of an outbreak is crucial, they argue. Within 100 days of January 30, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global emergency, the disease led to more than 200,000 deaths worldwide. Since then, Covid deaths have neared 7 million.
The paper’s 19 authors include Victor Dzau, president of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; Ruxandra Draghia Akli, global head of global public health R&D at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson; and John-Arne Røttingen, director general of the Research Council of Norway and ambassador for global health at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.
“As members of this STEG, we believe that the global community should use lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic as a mandate for improved pandemic preparedness,” they write.
One lesson involves the allocation of limited research and development funding. During the COVID-19 crisis, the majority of funding went toward vaccines. In the final commitments of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, a global collaboration to accelerate the development of tests, treatments and vaccines, the vaccine pillar attracted nearly 70% of the funding.
“Diagnostics and therapeutics should be given the priority they deserve,” the authors write.
READDI CEO Jimmy Rosen agrees. “This is an excellent and insightful article,” he says. READDI’s sole mission is discovering and developing antiviral therapeutics in advance of future pandemic outbreaks. As a nonprofit organization, READDI is committed to the authors’ goal of new products offering “inherent timely and equitable access.”
“We’re developing small molecule antivirals — pills that can be swallowed with a drink of water — to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death,” Rosen says. “They’re shelf-stable and can be immediately available at the point of outbreak. Our goal is making treatment accessible to everyone who needs it, when they need it, where they need it.”
The paper’s authors recommend building a preparedness system that maintains “virtual-prototype portfolios” for the top 10 pathogens of pandemic potential, as defined by the World Health Organization. But, they write, “broad coverage with little necessary updating would be ideal to deliver rapid benefits against entire pathogen families.”
Broad coverage against virus families is READDI’s signature approach. READDI researchers develop broad-spectrum antivirals by exploiting the fact that all viruses in a virus family originate from a single ancestor and, therefore, share common methods for hijacking cells and causing disease. READDI’s “one drug, many bugs” solution makes the antivirals highly likely to work against future related viruses — even those that do not yet exist.
Vaccines are essential for ending pandemics. But developing a vaccine takes months of research — work that can’t start until scientists have a novel virus’ genetic code in hand.
As the authors of The Lancet commentary point out, when it comes to preparing for the multiple uncertainties of future pandemics, therapeutics are crucial.