Canada was too quick to develop vaccines and forgot to create an antiviral strategy.
Canada welcomes antivirals as a tool to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Many politicians, doctors, and journalists were enthusiastic about the approval by Health Canada of Pfizer’s antiviral Paxlovid. It has been long overdue for this endorsement to recognize the critical role of antivirals.
Canada failed to recognize the importance of simultaneously developing an antiviral strategy in its rush to acquire vaccines. It is time to make up the lost time.
As part of our global commitment to fighting pandemics, it is imperative that the federal government establish a strong, sustainable organization to deliver more antivirals.
To end the pandemic and put Canada on a path to normalcy, antivirals are crucial. Many more antivirals are needed to prevent the development of drug-resistant SARS CoV-2.
AZT was the first drug approved for HIV treatment in 1987. Now, 35 years later , there are over 30 treatments .
Antivirals also have a public health benefit. The treatment of infected people at the time they are diagnosed can reduce their viral load and decrease transmission. Antiviral treatment can also reduce the severity of symptoms and save the health system time and money. Treatments are also needed for patients who have survived long-COVID symptoms.
Funding on the same level as for vaccine acquisitions is required to discover and develop additional antivirals.
Canada has pledged $18.5 million each year to establish a Centre for Research on Pandemic Preparedness, and Health Emergencies. Although the Centre has broad responsibilities, it is not able to provide antiviral treatments necessary for a strong pandemic response.
Canada must now create a new, highly-focused entity: a global collaboration for antiviral development and discovery. The new collaboration should have the mission to create a non-profit pathway for antiviral drug discovery and development from academic discoveries to patients.
This collaboration should include an antiviral research organization embedded in an academic Network of Centres of Excellence focused on antiviral discoveries. Canada should immediately launch a competition to find new antiviral drug candidates.
Canadian scientists could then participate in the multi-billion dollar philanthropic efforts of the World Health Organization’s Therapeutics pillar. This collaboration would encourage global efforts to improve pandemic response and preparedness.
Canada is well-positioned to lead a global collaboration in antiviral research and development.