Advances in Fighting Infectious Disease in 2020 Include Progress on Tuberculosis & COVID-19

By the bioMérieux Connection Editors

Throughout history, infectious diseases have taken an overwhelming toll on the lives of people around the world. However, since the 1920s, infectious disease has not been a leading cause of death in the United States and many other nations as well. This is due to improved sanitation and hygiene, the discovery of antibiotics, and the implementation of childhood immunization programs. Today, 16 diseases are now preventable in the U.S. because of childhood vaccines.

This year, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has served as a reminder that our fight with infectious disease is constantly evolving. “From the HIV/AIDS epidemic to outbreaks of Ebola, the landscape of infectious diseases requires continued effort and preparation to overcome new obstacles and pathogens that can arise at any time,” states the 2020 Medicines in Development Report for Infectious Disease by the American’s Biopharmaceutical Companies organization.

As infectious diseases evolve, the medical community has been working to meet the challenge by updating and improving the tools we use to combat infections. Right now, biopharmaceutical research companies have 421 medicines and vaccines in development to treat or prevent fungal, bacterial, and viral infections.

Below we’ve summarized some of the top medicines and vaccines that are in the pipeline for the treatment and prevention of infectious disease.

Treatment for drug-susceptible tuberculosis (TB)

For many decades, little progress was made in researching and developing ways to improve TB treatment. However, in recent years, due to funding and market incentives, clinical research and treatment development has been initiated. Many clinical trials are in progress to find more effective treatments for both multi-drug resistant TB and drug-susceptible TB. A clinical review article published in March in the BMJ discusses and compares ongoing clinical trials for drugs aiming to treat TB.

One of the new promising anti-TB candidates in development is an antibacterial that will serve as an oral treatment for drug-susceptible TB. “It acts by suppressing protein synthesis in TB by selectively inhibiting the enzyme Leucyl t-ribose nucleic acid (RNA) synthetase. By inhibiting the protein synthesis, the medicine prevents the formation of the MTB cell walls,” states the 2020 Medicines in Development Report for Infectious Disease.

Broad-spectrum antiviral medicine to aid treatment of COVID-19

Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medicine, has been shown to be viable treatment for COVID-19 infection. Early clinical trial results were mixed, with some showing that the drug provided no benefit. However, one study demonstrated that patients in a 5-day remdesivir treatment group were more likely to show improvement than those not given the medicine. Now, final reports from clinical trials, published in October and November, have confirmed the benefits remdesivir can have on COVID-19 patients.

“Coronaviruses have genomes made up of ribonucleic acid (RNA). Remdesivir interferes with one of the key enzymes the virus needs to replicate RNA. This prevents the virus from multiplying,” states a final report of clinical trial results published by the National Institutes of Health.

A vaccine to prevent COVID-19

In early December, the FDA granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer and BioNTech. A second vaccine, created by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), received EUA on December 18th. Because of global cooperation and investment of scientific and financial resources, as well as a strong body of existing research and technology, the vaccine development process was substantially expedited, compressing a timeline that can sometimes last a decade into less than a year.

According to a Medical News Today article, genomic sequencing played a major role by allowing researchers to discover the viral sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus about 10 days after serious COVID-19 cases were reported. Researchers then quickly assembled to share their data with other scientists, and worldwide cooperation allowed the process of vaccine research and clinical trials to be fast-tracked. In the U.S., Operation Warp Speed partnered with multiple institutions, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to develop, manufacture, and distribute 300 million vaccine doses throughout 2021.

Several countries have begun administering the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The distribution of the vaccine has sparked positive outlooks for 2021, with hopes that enough people will be immunized to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of bioMérieux, Inc.

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