Covid-19 roundup: Italy death toll officially tops China; US company plans roll out of at-home specimen collection kits
In a first, China reported on Thursday that there were no new locally-transmitted coronavirus cases for the first time since the pandemic began, while President Trump implied treatments to fight the coronavirus scourge were approved and/or just around the corner, only to be politely corrected by FDA chief Stephen Hahn, who underscored data on safety and efficacy were still to come. As of Friday, global cases hit 244,500.
→ Europe is no longer just the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic — the death toll in Europe’s worst-hit country, Italy, has officially surpassed the total fatalities in China, where the virus originated last year. Italian deaths stand at 3,405 versus China’s 3,245, although the reliability of the data emerging from China has been questioned.
Marcello Natali, who appeared in a TV interview before his Covid-19 diagnosis to show how badly stretched the health care system had become for doctors on the front lines in Italy, died on Wednesday isolated and alone in an intensive care unit. He had been working with sanitizer and a face mask, but reportedly without gloves. “They have run out,” he told Euronews late in February. “Certainly, we were not prepared to face this situation.”
→ Although more than 108,000 tests have been done so far in the United States, according to the Covid Tracking Project, demand still far outstrips supply and private enterprise is working up a frenzy to enhance production and plug gaps.
Earlier this week, at-home lab testing company Everlywell unveiled that it had developed an at-home specimen collection kit with telehealth diagnosis for Covid-19, which will be available to consumers starting Monday. Once requested online by consumers experiencing symptoms, samples can be collected at home. Each test costs $135 — at no profit to Everlywell — and will be covered by participating HSA and FSA providers. There is an initial supply of 30,000 tests, but the company plans to shore up its capacity to cater to a quarter of a million people weekly.
Separately on Thursday, diagnostics company LabCorp said it was ahead of schedule in the number of tests it can perform per day — as of Friday, it can offer 20,000 Covid-19 tests/day.
→ The interest in mRNA technology has exploded as companies like Moderna and CureVac harness it to combat the new coronavirus. Now, a Russian company is the latest biotech to make its foray into the field with three vaccine options, although it is well behind some of the other efforts. The company, BIOCAD, anticipates kicking off animal studies by late April.
→ Various trials are testing the promise of a host of antivirals: Gilead‘s remdesivir; the HIV drug cocktail of lopinavir and ritonavir; lopinavir and ritonavir plus interferon-beta; and the antimalarial drug chloroquine. Now, Germany’s Merck KGaA has donated a supply of interferon beta-1a, branded Rebif, to the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) for use in a clinical trial.
→ After President Trump on Thursday implied a decades-old malaria drug — chloroquine phosphate — was sanctioned by the FDA to fight the new coronavirus, reports emerged that late last year the drug’s maker Rising Pharmaceuticals doubled the price of the compound, but has now restored the original price tag as the virus envelops much of the globe. (Endpoints Link).
Apart from Bayer — which on Thursday said it would donate 3 million tablets of its version of chloroquine phosphate — Mylan and Teva also committed to donating a chloroquine compound (hydroxychloroquine sulfate) to the United States, as the potential of the drug to fight coronavirus is investigated.
→ Another drugmaker’s clinical trial work has been derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. Gastrointestinal disease-focused Phathom Pharmaceuticals pressed pause on enrollment in two trials, in line with the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy’s recommendations on limiting endoscopies, which are required in both clinical trials.
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