Health for Juan and Juana: Update on latest research, development initiatives on vaccines for Covid-19


We often hear that once a vaccine against the deadly coronavirus disease is found,  only then we can return to “normal”.

During the “Health for Juan and Juana” webinar,  Dr.  Thomas Cueni, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) director general, said that efforts are under way to speed up research and development for the Covid-19 vaccine.  This is being done by biopharmaceutical industry.

The IFPMA represents research-based pharmaceutical companies and associations across the globe.

Due to Covid-19, Cueni said it’s not “business as usual” for companies and that there is a need for “collaboration” such as “shared expertise, shared data” and the need to “reprioritize” to find a solution to this pandemic— the vaccine.

“The world is looking at us, “ Cueni said during the webinar stressing that everybody awaits the vaccine.

He shared, however, that the important goal is to have a vaccine that is effective,  efficient and safe.

“We need to be sure that vaccines will not just be effective, efficient but also safe,” he said.

IFPMA,  in a news release, said a new vaccine to protect people from Covid-19 holds the greatest promise of ending the pandemic, but there are no guarantees that one will be found.

It said that the biopharmaceutical industry is working at unparalleled speed and sparing no resources to develop safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in record time.

As of May 27, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported there are currently 10 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation and 115 candidate vaccines in preclinical evaluation.

Likewise,  several biopharmaceutical companies are researching vaccine candidates and are collaborating in the sharing of existing technologies that can be leveraged to allow a rapid upscale of production once a vaccine candidate is identified.

Companies are also sharing technologies that act as an adjuvant, which can boost the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

“Not only does the science have to be on our side if we are to quickly find a coronavirus vaccine, but we also have to find ways of being able to produce hundreds of millions, possibly billions of doses of the new vaccine. Then people need to be vaccinated in sufficient numbers to protect whole communities. And, all the while, we should continue to produce existing vaccines,” Cueni said.

Cueni admitted that the task in hand is larger than any attempted before and beyond the power of any single entity.

“The only way to deliver on our promise of safe, equitable, affordable coronavirus vaccines is for science and collaboration on a global scale to prevail. Be in no doubt, our member-companies are fully engaged in the race to find a vaccine. We are fully committed to playing our full role within existing partnerships, such as ACT Accelerator and Gavi, on the basis that we wholeheartedly embrace the goal of providing new coronavirus vaccines for all,” he explained.

During the webinar, Cueni expressed that it should be the health-care workers (HCWs) who will get the vaccine first.

It may be noted that HCWs are prone to contract the virus.

“We will have significant volume [of vaccine] available, first set of people to get it all over the world are the healthcare workers because they deserve our solidarity, “ he said.

PHL joins WHO Solidarity trial

On April 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) announced on the participation of the Philippines to WHO Solidarity trial has been approved by the Single Joint Research Ethics Board (SJREB) in support of the Covid-19 global response.

This was also mentioned by one of the speakers of the webinar, Dr.  Jaime C.  Montoya, who is executive director of the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development.

Montoya said that joining the trial is one of the international collaborations for Covid-19 treatment research.

The Philippine representatives to the WHO Solidarity clinical trial is led by Dr. Marissa Alejandria of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and President of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, in close collaboration with the DOH and the WHO.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire will serve as the official liaison for the DOH.

“We are optimistic that this mega trial, with over 90 participating countries, will promote the rapid generation of strong evidence for treating Covid-19, and ultimately stem this pandemic,” Vergeire said.

WHO, earlier, launched an international randomized and adaptive clinical trial “Solidarity” to test the safety and effectiveness of four possible therapies in treating Covid-19, compared to standard of care: the investigational antiviral Remdesivir, antimalarial drug Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine, antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV Lopinavir with Ritonavir, and Lopinavir with Ritonavir plus Interferon-beta-1a, last March 13, 2020.

However, WHO halted the use of Hydroxychloroquine on May for it may increase the risk of death and heart problems.

More than 100 countries have joined the Solidarity trial with more than 1,200 patients randomized from the first five countries, to evaluate the safety and efficacy of four drugs and drug combinations.

It will be conducted in at least 20 Level 3 hospitals nationwide.

SJREB is a level 3 Philippine Health Research Ethics Board (PHREB) accredited research ethics committee which conducts a joint review of study protocols for at least three sites in the Philippines. Level 3 accreditation means that the SJREB can review all types of research, including clinical drug trials. The board is composed of seven permanent members and site representatives.

“There is currently no magic drug or known treatment for Covid-19 and there is an urgency to find effective treatment” explained Vergeire.

The drugs included in this trial is largely untested against SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, and more robust data is needed.

WHO Acting Representatives Dr. Socorro Escalante and Dr Tauhid Islam said that they are glad to partner with the Philippines and other countries around the world to help find an effective treatment for Covid-19.

They said that more countries that will be participating in the Solidarity trial, the quicker they be able to see results

To date, a total of of 117 patients are now enrolled from 15 study sites as the country participates in the said trial.

Vergeire said that 14 of the Solidarity trial sites are from the National Capital Region and one from Davao.

“Out of the 15 sites, four are public hospitals [three in NCR, one in Davao],” said Vergeire, who will serve as the official liaison for the DOH to the WHO Solidarity clinical trial.

Winning against Covid-19

Meanwhile,  Cueni expressed optimism that the battle against Covid-19 will be won in the future.

“I was born optimist, therefore,  I believe that we will get the vaccine and we will win [against Covid-19].”

This year, the Health for Juan and Juana,  fourth since 2016, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines and its partners zero in on innovation, the heart and mission of its members, global research-based biopharmaceutical companies, some of whom also operate in the Philippines.

The Health for Juan and Juana is a yearly event that brings together key health stakeholders in government, academe, development organizations, medical societies, civil society and patient organizations.

The Innovation Imperative featured speakers who gave participants the update on the latest research and development initiatives on vaccines, treatments, and testing on Covid-19 and other public health emergencies but also share their insights on how collaborative efforts can contribute to building a more resilient nation

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