How Canada's Pharmaceutical Industry is Helping in the Fight Against COVID-19

  • National Newswatch

As the world is experiencing unprecedented challenges from COVID-19, there are some glimmers of hope emerging from collaboration in the biopharmaceutical industry as companies, researchers, governments and others work together to try to find vaccines and treatments to help patients.As of April 2020, at least 70 potential novel coronavirus vaccines are being developed by research teams across the globe, according to the latest report this month from the World Health Organization (WHO).  One company in the running to find a vaccine for COVID-19 is Quebec-based biotechnology company Medicago.  It announced in March that it had produced a potential candidate vaccine. Medicago's 20-day turnaround is noteworthy: candidate vaccines are typically developed over several months.There are also 139 unique treatments – as distinct from vaccines – currently being investigated around the globe.  Here are a few examples of how Canadian researchers are exploring ways to effectively treat COVID-19.Antibody therapies could be used to recognize COVID-19 proteins and later destroy them. In partnership with Elli Lilly, Vancouver-based biotech company AbCellera has received funding from the federal government to analyze blood samples from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and isolate naturally-produced antibodies that can be used for treatment and prevention. Antiviral therapies are specifically meant to treat viral infections. AbbVie's antiviral drug Kaletra, currently used to treat HIV, is being explored as part of Canadian Treatments for COVID-19 (CATCO), the Canadian arm of the World Health Organization's SOLIDARITY trial. Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital is coordinating the research efforts of hospitals across Canada in CATCO, which is also being supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Immunoglobulins/convalescent plasma treatments are produced by harvesting the specific blood plasma of patients who have fully recovered from COVID-19. Clinical trials in Canada are planned to start in June 2020. Takeda has formed The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance with 5 other companies to accelerate plasma collection, clinical trial development and manufacturing capacity. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is serving as an advisory partner. 4.Therapeutics approved for other indications include already approved drugs and medicines used to treat other viruses and diseases. This has proven helpful in certain patients' treatments for COVID-19. The anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which is made by a number of companies including Novartis and Sanofi, is also being tested in a number of other clinical trials, including by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and the University of Alberta. Health Canada has also  authorized clinical trials for a Roche treatment for hospitalised adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia, as well as a Sanofi treatment for patients with serious lung inflammation. The objective in each case is to make even better care available to patients infected with coronavirus.In addition, last week the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) and Bayer Inc. received Health Canada approval for a major clinical research program that is aimed at identifying potential COVID-19 treatments. PHRI plans to enroll 6,000 patients into the two studies from more than 60 contributing research sites across Ontario, Canada, and internationally.Finding new treatments and vaccines will take close collaboration between the private and public sectors, backed by the closely coordinated work of thousands of scientists, physicians, researchers and volunteers. We are committed to partnering with governments and institutions around the world to bring safe, innovative and effective treatments and vaccines to patients as rapidly as possible, so that together we can save lives and eradicate COVID-19.Pamela Fralick is President of Innovative Medicines Canada, the industry association representing innovative pharmaceutical companies.  Prior to joining IMC, Ms. Fralick was President and CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society. Previously, she served as president and CEO of the Canadian Healthcare Association, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, the Collegium of Work and Learning and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. She has also held senior public service positions with Health Canada and the Department of National Defense.