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Corona combo

  • If AstraZeneca and Gilead Sciences merge, the two could potentially be a formidable force against covid-19.
  • India’s vaccine hopes would be aligned with theirs, but we should still boost our own R&D efforts

AstraZeneca, Britain’s largest pharmaceutical company, has reportedly approached the US-based Gilead Sciences for a potential merger. Though the two companies haven’t begun formal negotiations, should they join forces, their output could potentially be at the frontlines of the world’s war against covid-19.

Both seem to be at the forefront of recent advances in the West, and are engaged in carrying out clinical trials of anti-covid shots. AstraZeneca expects to produce a vaccine in alliance with Oxford University, the one that Pune-based Serum Institute of India has a licence to churn out for India. Gilead’s remdesivir, meanwhile, is a drug being tried out as a recovery aid for covid patients. Its intake has reportedly been found to shorten hospital stays.

Since our hopes are also pinned on large-volume production of the Oxford vaccine, we need to watch developments carefully. AstraZeneca is said to be churning out the vaccine well in advance of its safety approval, a project it is ready to lose money on if it doesn’t pass, and perhaps Gilead’s plants could pump up output. The dark horses of the lab-to-testing race against the dreaded disease are Chinese developers, whose progress remains shrouded in relative secrecy right now. Efforts are being made in India, too. These may need a boost, just in case a global scramble ensues for vials and pills that are effective against coronavirus and access to them proves difficult. Domestic research and development is the only guarantee of self-reliance in this arena. An economic recovery could depend on how long it takes to put corona anxiety behind us.

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