The Biden administration said Thursday it would invest $3.2 billion to speed the development of antiviral pills that could treat COVID-19 and other viruses. This significant step could save many lives in future pandemics. The Department of Health and Human Services said the plan, dubbed the Antiviral Program for Pandemics, would accelerate and expand support for clinical trials and aid further development of as-yet-undiscovered drugs. The agency expressed hope to have an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 authorized by the Food and Drug Administration within a year.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the program could soon see Americans take a course of pills from home at the beginning of an illness to help prevent the worst impacts of a virus-like the coronavirus, rather than end up in the hospital with a more severe case. He expressed hope Thursday the therapeutics would eventually be as valuable as drugs taken to treat HIV and hepatitis C. New antivirals that prevent COVID-19 severe illness and death, especially oral drugs that could be taken at home early in the course of the disease, would be powerful tools for battling the pandemic and saving lives,” Fauci said in a statement Thursday.
The chief science officer for the White House’s COVID-19 response, Dr. David Kessler, said the Biden administration’s investment, linked to President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, would only add to the robust vaccination program’s ongoing across the country. Even with very effective vaccines, some people may remain vulnerable to the virus, including people who are immunosuppressed or who are unvaccinated,” Kessler said in a statement. “An easily administered oral antiviral drug would be an essential part of our therapeutic arsenal that would complement the great success of our vaccine efforts. Medicine has advanced in recent decades to better treat viruses like HIV and hepatitis C, or even influenza, with antivirals. Researchers are currently testing antiviral pills that work similarly, and HHS said 19 drugs had been prioritized as part of the $3.2 billion packages for testing and clinical trials in patients with COVID-19.