EU revives coordinated approach in purchasing COVID drugs

Strategy on COVID-19 therapeutics was set to support the development and availability of much-needed COVID-19 therapeutics. [EPA-EFE/TRIBOUILLARD]

The European Commission has unveiled its strategy on COVID-19 therapies, described as another milestone in fighting the virus as it aims to speed up recovery, reduce hospitalisation and help those suffering from long COVID.

The strategy, presented on Thursday (6 May), tries to reproduce the same joint procurement approach adopted in the vaccine strategy in July last year.

This will allow Europe to have a stronger effect compared to one-off uncoordinated actions available today, according to the EU’s health chief Stella Kyriakides.

“By the end of the year we plan to conclude a further three joint procurement of COVID-19 therapeutics, we are looking into the option of also using advanced purchase agreements as we did for vaccines to maximise our impact,” she told a press conference.

Although vaccination rates across the EU are picking up and the Commission still confirms its goal of vaccinating 70% of the population by July, Kyriakides warned that the response to COVID-19 cannot rely only on vaccines.

Some member states, she added, have shown a great interest in the joint procurement of COVID drugs, as the infection rates are still high and some of these patients suffer from the so-called long COVID, the long-term effects of the disease.

For her, the strategy “adds another stone to this COVID-19 response” by addressing “the entire lifecycle of a medicine from research, development and manufacturing to procurement and deployment.”

The strategy will invest €90 million in population studies while clinical trials and a “therapeutics innovation booster” will be set up by July “to accelerate research and bring results to market”.

This therapeutics innovation booster, together with other preparatory actions, will feed into the HERA incubator, the newest bio-defence preparedness plan against the looming threat of new coronavirus strains.

EU health chief: COVID tests still needed as vaccination alone is not enough

Vaccination alone is not going to eradicate the coronavirus, said EU health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Thursday (18 March), stressing the importance of tests and contact tracking.

Another €5 million will be invested to carry out a comprehensive scanning exercise for 57 candidate therapeutics, whose manufacturers have already been in touch with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Kyriakides said.

“But our experience with vaccines has shown that once the difficult research and clinical trials stages are passed, manufacturing capacity can potentially be a bottleneck,” she said, adding that flexible EU drugs manufacturing will be supported.

One of the set targets in the strategy is the authorization of three new therapeutics to treat COVID-19 by October 2021 and possibly two more by the end of the year.

An objective deemed ambitious but feasible and necessary by the Health Commissioner.

So far, the only COVID-19 treatment authorised in the EU is Remdesivir, an antiviral drug produced by the pharmaceutical company Gilead.

The European Commission signed a €1-billion deal to buy 500,000 treatment courses of Remdesivir after having granted conditional approval for the treatment in July.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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