Building on deep scientific knowledge gained from decades of experience with viruses such as MERS, SARS, influenza, HIV and Hepatitis C, biopharmaceutical companies have made unprecedented progress in advancing potential treatments and vaccines to help fight COVID-19. Yet prior research into infectious diseases is not the only source of scientific insight. Some potential COVID-19 treatments have drawn inspiration from an unexpected source: cancer. 

For the past few decades, researchers have applied our growing understanding of how the immune system fights cancer to the development of new treatments, which has led to the field of immuno-oncology or immunotherapy. Now scientists are taking the lessons of immunotherapy to fight against infectious diseases like COVID-19.

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How COVID-19 Is Advancing the Biomedical R&D Process

As we face COVID-19, America's biopharmaceutical researchers have undertaken monumental efforts to advance the research and development process of the future.
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A Pipeline of Promise: Immuno-oncology

We are in a new era of medicine, powered in part by the advancements and innovations being made in the field of immuno-oncology or immunotherapy.

This can be seen in three areas of research: 

Vector-based vaccines: Gene therapies are revolutionizing the way we can respond to certain cancers and genetic diseases like sickle cell disease. These treatments rely on viral vectors to package the genetic information used to modify or introduce genes into a patient’s body with the goal of treating, preventing or potentially curing a disease. As scientists explore the potential of various types of vaccines to help prevent COVID-19, viral vectors are the delivery mechanism of choice in early testing. Researchers can introduce single genes from the novel coronavirus into weakened vaccine strains of existing viruses such as adenoviruses, delivering only the key genetic information needed for our cells to produce a target antigen for the immune system to attack. This gives the immune system the training it needs to recognize a protein marker of the new virus and build immunity, without actually causing an infection or exposing people to any form of the novel coronavirus. 

Anti-inflammatory treatments: Some of the most dangerous side effects for persons infected with COVID-19 are the result of a person’s immune system overworking, rather than underworking. The inflammation that results from a person’s body trying to fight the virus can lead to potentially life-threatening complications in the lungs, heart and other major organs. 

Within the field of oncology, certain treatments work to reduce or modify inflammation, allowing the body’s T-cells to fight the cancer while lowering the risk of life-threatening conditions. Scientists are exploring whether these treatments can also be used to slow inflammation in COVID-19 patients, helping reduce the severity of some of the virus’s most harmful side effects.

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PhRMA COVID-19 Treatment Progress

America’s biopharmaceutical companies are coming together to achieve one common goal: ending COVID-19. Our shared heritage of discovery and research allows us to respond to the coronavirus swiftly, with active trials for both treatments and vaccines already underway.

Biomarker testing: In recent years, our understanding of genetics has advanced far enough to allow scientists to codify the genetic breakdowns that lead to tumor growth. This is done by testing for biomarkers—the expression of certain genes that can be measured and correlated with health, disease or treatment. Biomarker testing is most widely known for its expanding use in oncology, but it can also be used to identify treatments for everything from heart disease to neurological conditions.  As more biomarkers and surrogate endpoints are identified and utilized, they can enhance the research and development process of new medicines by providing new ways to measure disease activity and the impact of the medicines being studied. Recently, scientists have begun examining whether certain biomarkers indicate a person is more likely to develop a severe coronavirus infection and require more intensive treatment. This knowledge could help physicians better prepare and guide treatment for COVID-19 patients. 

For decades, biopharmaceutical companies have advanced science, investing in new technology, research and medicines, which have become crucial to fighting the pandemic. The potential COVID-19 treatments derived from immunotherapy are just one example of how the industry, in close coordination with the NIH, academia and patients, leads the way to treat and defend against disease in all its forms.

Learn more about the efforts underway to develop solutions to help diagnose, treat and prevent COVID-19.

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