Biden administration to invest $3.2B for Covid-19 antiviral pills

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Thursday a $3.2 billion plan to build up the nation’s supply of drugs that can be used to treat Covid-19 and future viral threats.

The plan, called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics, will spur clinical trials and the manufacturing of promising treatments for Covid-19, with the goal of gaining FDA authorization for some antivirals and making them available to the public within a year, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

Effective antiviral medicines could be taken at home, preventing surges in hospitalizations and leading to fewer deaths, the department said. The effort, which also will include research on other viruses with pandemic potential, will be funded by the American Rescue Plan, it said.

“New antivirals that prevent serious Covid-19 illness and death, especially oral drugs that could be taken at home early in the course of disease, would be powerful tools for battling the pandemic and saving lives,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement.

“Through multidisciplinary collaborations among leading scientists in academia and industry, this investment from the American Rescue Plan to create the Antiviral Program for Pandemics will help inspire medical innovation and build on the extraordinary success we have seen in developing the COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.

In a press briefing Thursday, Fauci said few treatments exist for many of the viruses that have “pandemic potential.” Vaccines continue to be the centerpiece of the strategy against fighting Covid-19, but antivirals are an “important complement” to existing vaccines, especially for people with certain health conditions that make the Covid-19 shots less effective, he said.

Antiviral treatments would also add an “extra line of defense against other, unexpected emerging things like variants of concern,” Fauci said.

The plan provides $300 million for research and laboratory support, nearly $1 billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation, nearly $700 million for development and manufacturing and $1 billion to form groups, called Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern, to accelerate the creation of antiviral drugs.

Since the pandemic began, more than 600,000 people have died in the U.S. from Covid-19.