HHS partners with drug makers on COVID-19 vaccine, drugs

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is partnering with Sanofi Pasteur and Johnson & Johnson to develop vaccines and therapeutics to use against COVID-19, according to press releases from the drug makers and HHS today.

Sanofi announced it will be revisiting previous development work for a SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) vaccine to examine a path for COVID-19 vaccine development. Both SARS and COVID-19 are coronaviruses that originated in China, with SARS appearing in 2002 and largely disappearing by 2004.

The work will be done through a collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

Sanofi said its vaccine will use a recombinant DNA platform to produce an exact genetic match to proteins found on the surface of the virus. According to Sanofi, the previous work on a SARS vaccine gives them a head start, as that vaccine candidate performed well in non-clinical studies and animal challenge models.

Johnson & Johnson said it will also expand existing an partnership with BARDA via its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies to develop therapeutics for COVID-19.

"This is the third coronavirus to emerge and cause severe respiratory disease in humans within 18 years, and there are still no proven therapies to treat this disease," said BARDA Director Rick A. Bright, PhD, in an HHS press release. "In partnering with Janssen, BARDA is breaking this barrier to protect against this, as well as the next, coronavirus outbreak. This partnership may accelerate discovery and development of a new potentially lifesaving medicines for people with coronavirus infections."

According to the press release, Janssen and BARDA will share the research and development costs and mobilize resources to screen a library of antiviral molecules for activity against the novel coronavirus.

The work will begin by screening a library of approved therapeutics as well as investigational therapeutics that have completed some clinical trials, HHS said. Promising candidates will be assessed for further development.

Biocontainment system used on evacuees

In other US news, the Kansas City, Missouri, company MRIGlobal said its biocontainment units that roll on and off airplanes were used to evacuate 14 Americans who tested positive for COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan on Monday.

The units were developed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and, according to a company news release, they can contain highly contagious pathogens while protecting those outside the units. The units are durable and provide a safe flight.

Evacuating the Americans allowed them to return to the United States for monitoring and treatment.

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