After months of lobbying by the BIOM biotech cluster, Bavaria is launching a €50m initiative to push the best and fastest COVID-19 therapies.
"Besides protection by masks, social distancing etc, rapid diagnostic testing, and COVID-19 vaccines, we are now establishing a fourth pillar of emergency measures to mitigate the impact of the corona pandemic: therapeutics!," stressed Tobias Reiss, co-initiator of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Strategy and Parliamentary Secretary of the Bavarian CSU. According to Albert Rupprecht, research policy spokesman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has approved an additional €50m for the initiative and intends to increase it further if necessary. German biotech industry association BIO Deutschland previously suggested €1bn in funding was necessary even to fund the most advanced therapeutics.
Within Europe, the new COVID-19 Therapeutics Strategy is the only initiative that invests significant amounts in the development of therapies. Big Pharma-driven initiatives for the repurposing of already approved drugs for COVID-19 have been largely unsuccessful and projects with a funding volume of €400m under the EU's EIC and IMI programmes for therapeutics are now largely promoting medical technology innovations such as new respirators etc. For instance, a €72m Therapeutics Accelerator Programme, launched by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, is supporting only four innovative therapeutic approaches with just €6.4m.
Apart from vaccines that protect healthy people from infections, therapeutics are urgently needed to save the lives of people infected with SARS-CoV-2. "Despite dexamethasone, we do not have any effective therapeutic options at the intensive care unit (ICU) that would save the lives of mechanically ventilated COVID-19 patients," said Prof. Dr. Clemens Wendtner, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Munich Schwabing Hospital.
Domdey said he hoped that as many of the 15 other German states as possible would jump on the bandwagon to increase the volume of funding for the initiative. If we had therapeutics that could reduce the number of serious diseases by a factor of ten to a hundred, this would be as good as effective vaccination - with the difference that those already infected could also benefit, Domdey told European Biotechnology. "This would allow us to return to the longed-for normal state soon".
Germany appears to be a pioneer in the EU with its initiative, as the focus has so far been on protecting healthy people through vaccination. But biotech entrepreneurs from other EU countries are also putting pressure on the German EU presidency: "In April , the EU’s Covid-19 scientific committee published guidelines. The EIB called for submissions to its €5bn programme, and hired 50 experts for fast review to support 100 COVID-19 projects. But none of this ‘dream’ happened. Countries worked on their own. There was a small EIB programme with slow review. Meanwhile the US had clear guidelines, billions in grants, and one reviewing agency – the FDA. Another missed opportunity for Europe’s leadership. " stressed Philippe Pouletty, M.D. Chairman of French Abivax SA and Founder Truffle Capital.
Perhaps the therapy initiative is a silver lining not only for German COVID-19 patients.