The Biden administration
announced on Thursday that it will invest $3.2 billion to accelerate the development of antiviral pills to treat COVID-19
and other viruses, a significant step that could save many lives in future pandemics.
The Department of Health and Human Services
said the plan, dubbed the Antiviral Program for Pandemics, would speed up and expand support for clinical trials, as well as aid in the development of previously unknown drugs. The agency expressed hope that an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 could be approved 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 taking pills at home at the start of an illness to help prevent the worst effects of a virus like the coronavirus
, rather than ending up in the hospital
with a more serious case.
“New antivirals that prevent serious COVID-19 illness and death
, particularly oral drugs that can be taken at home early in the course of disease, would be powerful tools for combating the pandemic and saving lives,” Fauci said in a statement Thursday.
Dr. David Kessler, the White House
's COVID-19 response's chief science
officer, stated that the Biden administration's investment, which is linked to President Joe Biden
's American Rescue Plan
, would only supplement the country's robust vaccination
“Even with very effective vaccines
, some people
may remain vulnerable to the virus, including those who are immunocompromised or who have not been vaccinated,” Kessler said in a statement. “An easily administered oral antiviral drug would be an important part of our therapeutic arsenal, complementing the great success of our vaccine efforts.”
Researchers are currently testing antiviral pills that work
in a similar manner, and HHS said 19 drugs had been prioritized as part of the $3.2 billion package for testing and clinical trials in COVID-19 patients.
“Of course, as we’ve heard so many times in the last few briefings, vaccines clearly remain the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19,” Fauci said at a press conference on Thursday, according to The Hill. “However, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, particularly for individuals with certain conditions that may put them at a higher risk.”
Only one drug, remdesivir, has been shown to help people in the hospital with COVID-19; it is the only antiviral with full FDA approval to treat the coronavirus, but it is not a cure-all and is only available in hospitals or medical facilities via IV.