Incremental innovation

Building on Past Progress to Speed New Therapies to Market

There are more than three million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and rising, making the quest for life-saving innovation to address this pandemic an increasingly time-sensitive need. One valuable way that scientists are cutting time is by looking at the library of medicines that have already been developed to see if they might have value in the treatment of COVID-19. The opportunities include both looking at repurposing existing medicines, as well as discovering innovations that can advance therapies to address the current pandemic.

For example, a team of German scientists have found that an existing drug might be effective in protecting against COVID-19. The medicine – camostat – is used in a wide range of applications such as liver fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, and even some forms of cancer. It works by inhibiting a protein on the surface of cells called TMPRSS2. The researchers noticed that the coronavirus needs this surface protein in order to enter the cell and cause disease. Therefore, camostat may be able to block the interaction between the coronavirus and TMPRSS2 and prevent the disease.

Another example comes from Ascletis Pharma in China, which has begun clinical trials utilizing a combination of antivirals typically used to treat HIV and hepatitis C. All of the 11 patients that received the combination treatment have been discharged and have made a full recovery from COVID-19.

“Leveraging existing medicines for new disease applications has the potential to save millions of lives.”

While this progress is promising, much more research and testing is needed to determine whether these or other potential treatments are safe and effective against COVID-19. Nonetheless, these examples would not be possible without the existence of robust libraries of medicines to leverage in innovation. Intellectual property plays a key role here by:

  • Facilitating the innovation that allows for development of such an abundant library in the first place;
  • Protecting innovators while allowing for information sharing that helps other inventors learn and grow; and
  • Incentivizing future inventions with patents and other protections.

Time is of the essence in bringing COVID-19 treatments to market. Leveraging existing medicines for new disease applications has the potential to save millions of lives with less of a delay than extensive review process that comes with a completely new therapy. And what we learn will continue to advance our knowledge to help keep the innovation ecosystem going strong for this and future public health challenges.

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