Home >Science >News >Who to turn to in quest for covid cure?

As the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, a new study says that private drugmakers have had more success than government-funded ones in coming up with cures and vaccines for infectious diseases in the last two decades.

But investors prefer not to invest in companies that work on vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases as these are generally regarded as low-margin products, according to the study.

A working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research has studied 2,544 vaccine programmes and 6,829 non-vaccine programmes for such diseases in the 20-year period before the covid-19 outbreak. The authors find that the overall success probability for industry-sponsored vaccines was 39.6%, but just 6.8% for non-industry efforts.

For treatment drugs, industry programmes had 16.3% success rate, while for others, it was 8.2%, the study finds.

The success rate is measured by the probability that the initiative will lead to regulatory approval in at least one country. Non-industry programmes refer to those initiated by the public sector, institutes and other non-profit organizations.

Despite greater success, private companies, driven by profits, have been gradually retreating from this space in recent years due to financial problems. Vaccines and drugs against infectious diseases also have low expected growth potential compared to chronic treatments in other therapeutic areas, such as oncology or cardiovascular diseases, the authors argue.

They point out that viruses involved in recent outbreaks—Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Ebola, and Zika—have had a combined total of only 45 non-vaccine development programmes, and no approved therapy to date.

Understanding these gaps can help the policymakers step into areas that are in greater need of public sector support, the authors say.

Also read: Estimating Probabilities of Success of Vaccine and Other Anti-Infective Therapeutic Development Programs )

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