$125 Million Funding Accelerating COVID-19 Therapy Development

Gates Foundation, Mastercard and Wellcome launch COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator
coronavirus depiction

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard announced the intent to provide seed-funding up to $125 million to speed-up the response to the COVID-19 disease epidemic by launching the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.

This Accelerator will identify, assess, develop, and scale-up treatments for this new disease spreading around the world.

This is important news since there are no broad-spectrum antivirals or immunotherapies currently available for the fight against emerging pathogens, and none approved for use on COVID-19.

Announced on March 9, 2020, these partners said they ‘are committed to equitable access, including making products available and affordable in low-resource settings.’

The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will play a catalytic role by accelerating and evaluating new and repurposed drugs and biologics to treat patients with COVID-19 in the immediate term, and other viral pathogens in the longer-term.

The Gates Foundation and Wellcome are each contributing up to $50 million, and the Mastercard Impact Fund has committed up to $25 million to catalyze the initial work of the accelerator. 

The Gates Foundation’s funding is part of its $100 million commitment to the COVID-19 response announced on February 5, 2020.

“Viruses like COVID-19 spread rapidly, but the development of vaccines and treatments to stop them moves slowly,” said Mark Suzman, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a press release. 

“If we want to make the world safe from outbreaks like COVID-19, particularly for those most vulnerable, then we need to find a way to make research and development move faster.” 

“That requires governments, private enterprise, and philanthropic organizations to act quickly to fund R&D.”

The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will have an end-to-end focus, from drug pipeline development through manufacturing and scale-up. 

By providing fast and flexible funding at key stages of the development process, the Accelerator will de-risk the pathway for new drugs and biologics for COVID-19 and future epidemic threats, ensuring access in lower-resource countries.

The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will operate jointly as an initiative of the funders, drawing on expertise from inside and outside their organizations. 

The Accelerator will pursue several aspects of the development cycle to streamline the pathway from candidate product to clinical assessment, use, and manufacturing. 

To identify candidate compounds, the Accelerator will take a three-pronged approach: testing approved drugs for activity against COVID-19, screening libraries of thousands of compounds with confirmed safety data, and considering new investigational compounds and monoclonal antibodies. 

Drugs or monoclonal antibodies that pass initial screening would then be developed by an industry partner. 

The biotech and pharmaceutical industries will be critical partners, bringing their compound libraries and clinical data to the collaboration and lending commercialization and other expertise that will be required to scale up successful drugs and monoclonal antibodies. 

In parallel to the development of the COVID-19 drug pipeline, the Accelerator will work with regulators to align criteria and develop manufacturing capacity with industry. 

An accelerated pathway to bringing effective treatments to patients is around one year for products that have current regulatory approval or candidates with existing clinical data. 

The timeline would be longer for compounds further upstream in the pipeline that has limited existing clinical data.

Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome said, “This virus is an unprecedented global threat and one for which we must propel international partnerships to develop treatments, rapid diagnostics, and vaccines.”

While antiviral drugs are approved to lessen the severity of seasonal flu and treat HIV, among other viral diseases, none have demonstrated efficacy against the current epidemic. 

One reason for the lack of effective treatments is that products may not have an immediate market, which can slow or prevent their research and commercial development.

Mike Froman, vice chairman of Mastercard, added, “This global challenge not only represents a risk to the health and safety of populations all over the world, but also poses a potential disruption to the economic vitality of millions of people, businesses, and organizations worldwide.” 

“Our experience with financial inclusion shows us the importance of building a network of parties who bring not only their capital, but complementary assets and skillsets to the table, and we welcome other partners concerned about inclusive growth to join this effort.” 

COVID-19 disease R&D news is published by Precision Vaccinations.