June 1, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
Last month, the European Commission recognized that vaccinations will not provide universal protection and called for a unified approach across its 27 European Union nations to develop and deploy 10 therapeutics for COVID-19, with the goal of authorizing at least three new treatments by October. The commission is worried that there is only one approved COVID-19 treatment currently on the market.
It’s now time for the United States, a leader on the global stage, to do the same through a unified and collaborative approach between government, institutions and the biotech industry.
As daily vaccination rates continue to fall in the United States and new COVID-19 variants emerge throughout the globe, there is an urgent need for the Biden administration to address the new emerging variants and the availability of therapeutics for those Americans who will inevitably continue to fall ill to the virus.
While it is encouraging and hopeful to hear that half of U.S. adults, more than 129 million people over 18, are now fully vaccinated against the virus, most states are now vaccinating fewer people than they were a month ago. Supply is now outstripping demand, and, considering where we currently stand, the goal of achieving herd immunity has been deemed unlikely by U.S. experts. The latest projections are that 30 percent of American adults may not get vaccinated.
Even if we do achieve mass inoculation against COVID-19, Americans still remain susceptible to emergent mutant strains. The U.K. strain has taken over as the dominant strain in the United States, and, more worryingly, countries like Brazil, India and South Africa are battling their own variants, which are reported to be more transmissible and potentially more dangerous. While the current vaccines are reported to provide some level of protection, there is also growing evidence of concern that some variants are mutating to evade immune responses from vaccines and previous infections. Brazil’s P1 strain is one variant that has scientists worried, and closer to home, scientists in Texas have detected a new variant that appears to show signs of vaccine resistance. Even more new variants are expected to emerge over the coming months, driven by high cases around the globe.
Vaccines are only part of the solution. We need to recognize that Americans will continue to contract and get sick from COVID-19 in the future. Effective therapies are the other part of the solution and the key to returning to normal life — a much needed second line of defense for those who do fall ill.
America is in desperate need of a variant-fighting monoclonal antibody therapeutic treatment stockpile. Effective treatments for new COVID-19 variants will significantly lessen the impact of the disease on individuals and reduce the burden on the healthcare system, particularly as the fall and winter approach. Neutralizing monoclonal antibody therapies have proven to be highly effective when applied properly. The Biden administration must focus on the development of new therapeutics, in addition to continuing vaccination efforts in order to fully control COVID-19.
In an encouraging first step forward, the Biden administration recently announced a $400 million investment that will establish a partnership between state health departments and academic institutions to accelerate cutting-edge research into genomic epidemiology to track and monitor variants. New genomic surveillance tools could better help track pathogens and develop surveillance methods that our public health system can use to proactively respond to future variants.
Better data is important but so too is the ability to do something about it. While a surveillance and data collection program is moving us in the right direction, we also need to be developing treatments to have ready to protect Americans against these new strains. That is where collaboration with biotech companies, like my company Abpro, is essential.
With government and industry working hand in hand, we can develop and stockpile monoclonal antibody therapeutics in anticipation of variants to come. We need to ensure the proper funding to support the development and manufacturing of such therapies. These are highly complex, time- and resource-intensive endeavors. However, the technology exists today through modern antibody platforms to address these needs. The more action we take now, the more we can prevent future variants from threatening the health of our nation.
America is a world leader in science, research and technology and should be leading the way in the effort to identify new therapeutics for COVID-19. As we look ahead to the winter flu season and the anxiety that will come with it, the Biden administration needs to build a stockpile of monoclonal antibody therapeutics to address the upcoming mutant strains. We need a program in place to ensure the proper treatments are on the shelf and ready to be deployed to save American lives and ultimately defeat COVID-19.
Ian Chan is the CEO of Abpro, a Boston-based biotech company developing a new COVID-19 lead monoclonal antibody treatment, with a monoclonal antibody currently in Phase 2/3 clinical trials, reduces the risk of severe disease and hospitalization and has been designed to have the broadest mutant coverage.
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