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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Drugs And Vaccines Showing Promise

coronavirus vaccine
Jessica Hill
A researcher at Protein Sciences moves a vial in a lab, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Meriden, Conn. The biotech company is currently researching a vaccine for COVID-19.

Pharmaceutical companies are working around the clock to repurpose current medications and develop new therapies and vaccines to treat and prevent COVID-19. During a on-the-record discussion with reporters March 18, the life sciences industry detailed some of their most promising efforts.

During the PhRMA sponsored discussion, President and CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Stephen Ubl said 80 clinical trials are underway and there could be approved treatments in a matter of months.

One of the most promising treatments was not represented at this meeting. Gilead Sciences expects to have data in April from patients it is studying. They are being treated with Remdesivir, an antiviral, intravenous medicine that's been around for years but has not be approved by the FDA. It has reportedly shown to start working in COVID-19 patients within 24 hours.

Sense Of Urgency

"There's a tremendous sense of urgency and the team is working hard to accelerate the program as quickly as possible, working with regulatory agencies and our public health partners to do that," says Associate Vice President R & D Strategy for Vaccines with Sanofi, Clement Lewin.

Sanofi is working on a vaccine based on data it has from SARS. It has also partnered with Regeneron to develop a treatment for COVID-19 pneumonia. Lewin says there is evidence it can help reduce the number of deaths.

Another treatment, this one from Takeda,uses the body's own immune response to create a drug to treat the coronavirus. This hyperimmune globulin (H-IG) is expected to be available in nine to 18 months.

Takeda's Julie Kim says, "When a virus enters your body, your body enters an immune response and produces antibodies to fight and eliminate the virus. When you have recovered, you have a high level of antibodies."

Takeda would take the plasma from fully recovered patients, process it, purify it and turn it into a medicine.

Pharmaceutical Industry Turning On A Dime

"The reason the industry can move so swiftly is because of investments that have been made over the course of decades. We're talking about repurposing treatments already approved by the FDA," says Ubl.

Companies With Vaccines Under Development

With all the attention on new COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, some worry about the supply of medicines to treat other illnesses and conditions. The industry says it is making sure it has adequate raw materials to make them and it hasn't seen any shortages yet.
Also, what about clinical trials for potentially life-saving cancer treatments? Pfizer says there are ways to continue them remotely but no new patients are being admitted.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.