The World Health Organisation (WHO) states on its website that there are currently more than 50 Covid-19 vaccine candidates in trials. The organization is working in partnership with scientists, business, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator project to speed up the pandemic response.
When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries, with people most at risk being accorded the first priority.
Apart from the Covid-19 vaccine projects being spearheaded by WHO, other initiatives have also been mooted at the regional and continental levels in regards to research towards the development of a potential vaccine.
(TOP: A lab technician performing medical research. Image by Royalty-Free/Corbis).
In April last year, the partners in the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator announced grants of $20 million to three institutions – the University of Washington, University of Oxford, and La Jolla Institute for Immunology – to fund clinical trials in order to identify highly potent immunotherapies for the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants were the first investments to come from the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a large-scale initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard to speed the development of and access to therapies for COVID-19. By then, there were no broad-spectrum antivirals or immunotherapies available to prevent or treat COVID-19.
The Accelerator also received additional funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative worth $25 million while the UK government committed £40 million. The additional funds were meant to allow the Accelerator to continue making grants to study repurposed drugs and investigate biological compounds for activity against COVID-19.
In addition to funding drug trials, the Accelerator was to provide $1.73 million to the La Jolla Institute for Immunology to establish a Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium, known as CoVIC. The effort brought together scientists from around the world and enables them to share and evaluate candidate antibodies side by side in a blinded, multidisciplinary analysis to identify ideal therapeutic combinations.
Apart from its contribution to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the same month announced a further commitment of $250 million to support the research, development and equitable delivery of lifesaving tools in the global effort against COVID-19.
The funds were meant to support continued innovation to develop tests, treatments, and vaccines that are easier to scale and deliver, to ensure many options that are less expensive and can be used in different settings.
At the continental level, 54gene, the Nigeria-based genomics research, services, and development company, launched a fund to tackle the current challenges around testing for COVID-19 in the country. To support the ongoing efforts of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control [NCDC], 54gene opened the fund by donating $150,000 and later received an additional $350,000 from partners including Union Bank. The funds raised were to help increase COVID-19 testing capacity in the country by up to 1,000 additional tests a day, by buying testing instruments and the required biosafety materials such as biosafety cabinets and personal protective equipment needed to keep frontline healthcare workers safe.
Then after the #COVID19InnovationChallenge virtual Demo Day in Nigeria held by Ventures Platform, MTN has joined NCDC and Lagos State Science and Research Innovation Council (LASRIC) in supporting seven start-ups building solutions and platforms to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
The seven start-ups each received $3,000 equity-free grant funding from Ventures Platform and its partners – Loftyinc Allied Partners Ltd, Silverchip Fox Consulting, Bluechip Technologies, AGS Tribe, ACIOE, Lakunle Runsewe, Manasseh Egedegbe, Venture Garden Group, NESG, Sterling Bank and the LASRIC).
Pharmaceutical firms have also joined efforts to fight the spread of the virus. For instance, Boehringer Ingelheim set up a Global Support Program to bring more financial relief, protective materials and medicine donations to healthcare institutions and communities in need around the world.
Boehringer Ingelheim initially started a EUR 1 million donations program in January 2020 for affected regions in China. Apart from financial contributions, the company announced that from January 2020, a team of more than 100 highly engaged scientists from all areas of research and development (R&D) has contributed to projects aimed at finding potential treatment solutions for COVID-19.
The company also announced that it’s to commit over 11,000 work hours in R&D as part of the call by the Innovative Medicines Initiative of the EU (IMI). The company also joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation COVID-19 Therapeutic Accelerator. In addition to these, Boehringer Ingelheim also supports scientists worldwide with its open innovation portal opnMe.com, which offers 6 anti-viral compounds out of 43 high-quality pharmacological tool compounds at no cost for testing of research hypotheses.