Impact of COVID-19 on Drug Discovery and Development: A Pharmacologist's Perspective
Dibyajyoti Saikia1, Hansraj Kumar2, Subodh Kumar2
1 Department of Pharmacology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Guwahati, Assam, India
2 Department of Pharmacology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Deoghar, Jharkhand, India
|Date of Submission||22-May-2023|
|Date of Acceptance||07-Jun-2023|
|Date of Web Publication||31-Aug-2023|
Department of Pharmacology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Deoghar - 814152, Jharkhand
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Saikia D, Kumar H, Kumar S. Impact of COVID-19 on Drug Discovery and Development: A Pharmacologist's Perspective. Adv Biomed Res 2023;12:212
Finding efficient treatments for the disease at all stages has been greatly accelerated by COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 2,000 trials of potential COVID-19 drugs registered worldwide. COVID-19 has also accelerated the adoption of novel technologies and approaches, such as antibody engineering, RNA interference, artificial intelligence, and adaptive trial designs. It has highlighted the need for collaboration and coordination among different stakeholders, such as regulators, industry, academia, and public health agencies, to ensure efficient and ethical drug development.
COVID-19 has also exposed the challenges and gaps in the current drug discovery and development system, such as the lack of diversity in clinical trials, the need for global access and equity in drug distribution, and the importance of preparedness and resilience for future pandemics.
Drug discovery and development
The drug discovery and development process is a time-intensive and knowledge-intensive process, wherein a new chemical entity needs to be qualified as a drug of general use after necessary regulatory approval. It takes on average 10-15 years for drug to reach market if it gets approved.
The process involves different stages to establish the efficacy and safety of the drug. Typically, it consists of four main stages:
- Early drug discovery (In-silico, In vitro, In vivo studies)
- Preclinical phase (Animal studies)
- Clinical phases (Human studies)
- Postmarketing surveillance (After regulatory approval).
These processes are long and may take years. Drug repurposing has helped in reducing these timelines significantly. Almost all the drugs which have been tried for COVID-19 were already investigated or were already being used for some other purpose. It helped us to get away with drug development processes and time-consuming safety studies by repurposing the existing drugs that have been shown to have activity against SARS-CoV-2 or its complications. The vaccine development for COVID-19 led to an unprecedented global effort to develop effective vaccines against the virus.
It has boosted the interest and investment in antiviral drug research,, which has been historically underfunded and neglected compared with other therapeutic areas. It has facilitated the collaboration and sharing of data and resources among researchers, clinicians, regulators, industry, and public health agencies, which can improve the quality and efficiency of drug research and development. The pandemic also accelerated the adoption of digital technologies in drug development. Virtual clinical trials, telemedicine, and remote monitoring became more prevalent, reducing the need for in-person interactions. This shift may lead to more streamlined and patient-centric approaches in future drug development. Regulatory agencies swiftly adapted their processes to facilitate rapid development and approval of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. Emergency use authorizations and accelerated approval pathways were implemented to expedite access to therapies. COVID-19 has inspired the discovery and testing of traditional medicine such as traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) which have been widely used in China and other countries to treat COVID-19 patients. Some TCM products, such as Lianhuaqingwen granules, have shown positive effects in improving clinical outcomes and laboratory results of COVID-19 patients.
COVID-19 has also exposed several challenges or gaps in the current drug discovery and development system. It has revealed the complexity and uncertainty of the scientific process, especially for a novel and evolving virus. There are many challenges and constraints in conducting rigorous and ethical research, such as designing and validating appropriate biological models, culturing and handling the virus safely, recruiting and retaining qualified patients, and interpreting and communicating the results. COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for coordination and harmonization among different stakeholders, such as regulators, industry, academia, and public health agencies, to avoid duplication, waste, and confusion. There are many trials that have been poorly designed, underpowered, or redundant, while some promising therapies have not been adequately tested. There is also a lack of standardization and transparency in trial protocols, data sharing, and reporting. COVID-19 has highlighted the challenges of access and equity in drug distribution and delivery, especially for low-income and middle-income countries and marginalized populations. There are many barriers and disparities in accessing affordable and effective drugs, such as intellectual property rights, supply chain issues, pricing policies, regulatory hurdles, and ethical dilemmas. There is also a need for more diversity and inclusion in clinical trials to ensure the safety and efficacy of drugs for different populations.
The long-term health effects of COVID-19, such as long COVID, have created a new area of research and drug development. Efforts are underway to develop treatments specifically targeting the long-term complications and symptoms experienced by COVID-19 survivors.
There is no simple or definitive answer to how to overcome these challenges, but there are some possible ways to address them. To overcome the complexity and uncertainty of the scientific process, there is a need for more rigor, transparency, and reproducibility in research design, conduct, analysis, and reporting. There is also a need for more interdisciplinary and integrative approaches that combine different methods, models, and data sources to better understand the virus and its interactions with the host. To overcome the need for coordination and harmonization among different stakeholders, there is a need for more collaboration and communication across sectors, disciplines, regions, and countries. There is also a need for more standardization and sharing of protocols, data, and resources to avoid duplication, waste, and confusion. There is also a need for more adaptability and flexibility in trial designs and regulatory processes to account for the evolving nature of the pandemic. To overcome the challenges of access and equity in drug distribution and delivery, there is a need for more solidarity and responsibility among countries and organizations to ensure fair and equitable allocation of drugs based on need and no ability to pay. There is also a need for more diversity and inclusion in clinical trials to ensure the safety and efficacy of drugs for different populations. There is also a need for more innovation and affordability in drug development and manufacturing to reduce costs and increase availability.
To conclude, the COVID-19 pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on drug discovery and development. There are many things that can be learned from these and taken forward such as increased collaborations, digital transformation, and regulatory adaptations. Similarly, it also points out the gaps which needs to be filled such as equitable access to the drug distribution and delivery. This lesson must not be forgotten. Furthermore, it is important to note that the full impact of COVID-19 on drug development and the pharmaceutical industry is still unfolding. The lessons learned from this global health crisis may shape future approaches to drug development, clinical trials, and public health strategies.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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