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$125m boost announced for Covid-19 drug development

Creation of Therapeutics Accelerator comes amid calls for more global spending on virus-related R&D

A $125-million joint initiative to speed up drug development in order to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic has been announced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Mastercard.

The Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator is being set up to provide “fast and flexible funding at key stages of the development process”, to hasten the path from drug discovery to treatments that can be rolled out globally.

The announcement comes as cases of Covid-19 exceed 100,000 worldwide and Italy imposes a national lockdown to limit the spread of the outbreak.

In the announcement on 9 March, Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said that “investing now, at scale, at risk and as a collective global effort, is vital if we are to change the course of this epidemic”.

As yet, there are no antiviral drugs approved for use against Covid-19. While the accelerator is “evaluating new and repurposed drugs” for use in the “immediate term”, it will take at least a year until these are ready for patients, according to the announcement.

Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “We need to find a way to make R&D move faster. That requires governments, private enterprise and philanthropic organisations to act quickly to fund R&D.”

The Gates foundation is committing up to $50m to the accelerator, accounting for half of the $100m the organisation said it had ring-fenced for Covid-19 in February. Wellcome is also committing up to $50m, with Mastercard contributing up to $25m.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has also provided additional funding for the development of vaccines for Covid-19. Cepi announced $4.4m on 10 March for separate projects at the University of Oxford in the UK and the pharmaceutical company Novavax in the United States, bringing the number of Cepi-funded projects to six.

Earlier in the week, Cepi called for governments to commit $2bn to Covid-19 vaccine development, warning that efforts were at risk of stalling. “Without immediate additional financial contributions, the vaccine programmes we have begun will not be able to progress,” said Cepi chief executive Richard Hatchett in a statement on 6 March.