The biotech company Regeneron successfully developed an antibody drug to treat Ebola as well as one against MERS, a deadly coronavirus similar to Covid-19. Regeneron has an antibody drug that should enter human trials in June. Vir Biotechnology is also developing an antibody treatment for Covid-19 and says it could be ready for human trials this summer. Amgen recently started its own program with Adaptive Biotech and Eli Lilly has one as well. If these approaches work, the drugs can advance quickly, because much of the science and the safety is already well understood.
But success will require a strong sense of urgency from manufacturers—and from regulators, who need to collaborate with drug developers in innovative ways to move the most promising therapies. The Food and Drug Administration has deployed tactics in recent years to advance therapeutics aimed at rare and deadly cancers. One is real-time reviews, in which regulators work with drug developers to evaluate data as it is read out from clinical trials, instead of waiting until the trial concludes, to understand the potential benefits and risks rapidly. This has enabled drug developers to accelerate development timelines. FDA’s senior career scientists need the firm backing of political leadership to apply these and similar scientific approaches to Covid-19.
Americans’ lives won’t return to normal absent a technological breakthrough. But with some effort, American industry and government can before this fall produce therapies that save lives and restore freedom and prosperity.