New Program to Develop Antivirals for COVID-19

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The Biden administration announced Thursday a $3.2 billion program dedicated to developing drugs that fight COVID-19 in its early stages, along with potential future pandemics.

The Antiviral Program for Pandemics will allow the National Institutes of Health to focus on antivirals for COVID-19 and other pandemic risks, including hemorrhagic fever and influenza, the way HIV and hepatitis C can be managed.

“This program is going to bring together leading scientists from academia, as well as industry, to accelerate the development of new antivirals, and will also target other viruses of pandemic potential,” top COVID-19 expert Anthony Fauci, MD, said at a news conference Thursday.

The program — the brainchild of Fauci and David Kessler, MD, chief science officer for the government’s COVID-19 response — has been in the works since late last year.

The plan allocates up to $1.2 billion to create collaborative drug discovery groups that will tap into the biomedical research community for innovations in antiviral development. It will provide more than $300 million for research, nearly $1 billion for clinical evaluation, and nearly $700 million for development and manufacturing.

Fauci stressed that the new program will not replace the need for vaccines.

“Vaccines clearly remain the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19,” he said. “However, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for individuals with conditions that put them at a greater risk, for those whom vaccines may not be protective. It also adds a line of defense against other unexpected emerging things like variants of concern that we’re currently dealing with.”

Francis S. Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement: “The remarkable and rapid development of vaccines and testing technology has shown how agile scientific discovery can be when we combine the resources of public agencies, private entities, and our nation’s most brilliant and creative minds. We will leverage these same strengths as we construct a platform for the discovery and development of effective antivirals that will help us defeat COVID-19 and better prepare us for potential future viral pathogens.”


News briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Team, June 17, 2021.

Francis S. Collins, MD, director, National Institutes of Health.

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