Dr. Anthony Fauci said this morning that hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready by January.
In an interview on the Today Show, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that a vaccine candidate is in the first phase of a clinical trial. If the second phase shows it is safe and effective, “we’re going to start up ramping up production with the companies involved,” Fauci said. “You do that at risk. In other words, you don’t wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing, you at-risk, proactively, start making it, assuming it’s going to work. And if it does, then you can scale up and hopefully get to that timeline. So we want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it’s safe and it’s effective. I think that is doable if things fall in the right place.”
Fauci also said that the January 2021 timeline falls in line what he was saying early in the U.S. struggle with the pandemic — that a vaccine could be ready in 12 to 18 months.
In other coronavirus news, Fauci told NBC that the results of a federal clinical trial for Gilead Sciences’ (NSDQ:GILD) remdesivir represent a “very important first step” and that he expects an FDA emergency use authorization soon. The placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial enrolled 1063 individuals and showed that patients who received remdesivir had a 31% faster time to recovery from COVID-19 and getting out of the hospital than those who received a placebo, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with remdesivir compared with 15 days for those who received placebo. The results also suggested a survival benefit, with a mortality rate of 8% for the group receiving remdesivir versus 11.6% for the placebo group, the NIH noted.
“Although the results were clearly positive from a statistically significant standpoint, they were modest,” Fauci added. “It’s the first step in what we project will be better and better drugs coming along, either alone or in combination, drugs of this type and drugs addressing other parts of the virus. So it’s good news, but I was very serious when I said this is not the total answer by any means.”
Remdesivir is an intravenous drug that takes months to produce, Gilead said on its website. Production also requires sterile drug product manufacturing capabilities, which limits the number of organizations capable of manufacturing the medicine. The company added that it has reduced the timeline for scaling up manufacturing for a drug like remdesivir from the typical 9 to 12 months to a period of 6 to 8 months and continues to work on shortening the process.
Fauci told NBC that he is “pretty confident” that it will be available soon enough to make a difference for COVID-19 patients. Gilead plans to submit the full data for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in the coming weeks.
This article has been updated with information from the National Institutes of Health.