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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Novartis CEO: It’ll take more than vaccine to fight Covid-19

Even once such a vaccine is on the market, he said, it probably won’t protect everyone -- as is the case with seasonal flu.

By: Bloomberg | Updated: September 30, 2020 3:31:31 pm
The Bill was passed amid criticism from the Opposition over alleged Covid-19 mismanagement. (File)

Vaccines alone won’t be enough to fight Covid-19, Novartis AG Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan said. Treatments will also play a crucial role.

Significant supplies of highly effective vaccines probably won’t be available until the end of next year, according to Narasimhan, who headed development for Novartis’s former vaccines unit before it was sold to GlaxoSmithKline Plc five years ago.

Even once such a vaccine is on the market, he said, it probably won’t protect everyone — as is the case with seasonal flu. Researchers will also need time to see whether vaccines work differently for the young and the elderly, he said.

“At minimum, therapeutics are a bridge to those high-volume, high-efficacy vaccines,” Narasimhan said in an interview. “Likely even beyond the point of vaccines being broadly deployed, we will need therapeutics for those patients who still become ill from the virus.”

Some of the biggest strides against the pandemic so far have come from therapies, with the use of drugs such as steroids to help prevent serious damage to the lungs. The verdict is still out, meanwhile, on the first vaccines. Early data from front-runners will probably come this fall, with Pfizer Inc. predicting it will have results as soon as October.

Novartis expects data from a large study showing whether its anti-inflammation drug canakinumab can help patients with severe Covid-19 by the end of October or early November, Narasimhan said. Together with partner Incyte Corp., the company is also studying a blood and bone marrow cancer medicine called ruxolitinib in Covid patients whose immune systems have gone into overdrive and begun to attack their own bodies. In all, researchers are running some 35 Covid-19 patient trials on 20 different medicines in Novartis’s existing portfolio.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company and 15 other drugmakers issued a joint pledge with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday promising, among other things, to support fair allocation of vaccines and therapies globally. Suppliers will decide on their own whether to use donations, not-for-profit supply or tiered pricing.

They also called for “removing unwarranted political considerations” from the process to approve drugs, vaccines and tests.

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