The partners in the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a large-scale initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard, awarded $20m in initial grants to three institutions.
The University of Washington, University of Oxford, and La Jolla Institute for Immunology will receive the first three grants fund clinical trials in order to identify highly potent immunotherapies for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two of the newly announced trials will fund an investigation of two well-established drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, that have known antiviral properties. These drugs have been used to treat malaria and a variety of rheumatological conditions for more than 50 years. The trials aim to determine whether the drugs are effective as pre- and post-exposure preventive therapy for COVID-19. While these drugs both show initial promise, rigorous scientific evidence is needed to make decisions on how, where and within which populations to use them in this pandemic.
The University of Washington will conduct a multi-site clinical trial in Western Washington and the New York City area, in collaboration with New York University’s School of Medicine, investigating whether hydroxychloroquine can effectively prevent COVID-19 in people already exposed to the infection. The trial will enroll up to 2,000 asymptomatic men and women who are close contacts of persons with confirmed or pending COVID-19 diagnoses. Participants will be randomly assigned to take hydroxychloroquine or a placebo over two weeks, and samples will be collected and tested daily to confirm new COVID-19 infections across the two groups. Sandoz, a Novartis division, has donated the hydroxychloroquine doses needed to conduct the study.
Participant enrollment will begin in April, and results will be available in late 2020. The Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) will lead a placebo-controlled prophylaxis study of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in preventing COVID-19 in at-risk health care workers, frontline staff, and other high-risk groups. At least 40,000 participants in Asia and Europe will be randomized to receive either chloroquine (East Asian countries), hydroxychloroquine (United Kingdom and Europe), or a matched film-coated placebo as daily prophylaxis for three months.
The one-year project, known as COPCOV, aims to determine definitively whether these drugs can prevent COVID-19 and thus protect the vital health care workforce. Participant enrollment will begin in April and initial results will be available by the end of the year.
In addition to funding drug trials, the Accelerator will provide $1.73 million to the La Jolla Institute for Immunology to establish a Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, known as CoVIC. The effort will bring together scientists from around the world and enable them to share and evaluate candidate antibodies side by side in a blinded, multidisciplinary analysis to identify ideal therapeutic combinations. Antibody therapies can be used to protect frontline health care workers, contacts, and others who are exposed, as well as treat those who have already become sick.
In addition, newly announced funding from government and philanthropic donors has added to the Accelerator’s initial funding. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative committed $25m and the U.K. government committed £40m last week. The additional funds will allow the Accelerator to continue making grants to study repurposed drugs and investigate biological compounds for activity against COVID-19.