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Novartis CEO Talks Coronavirus Vaccine Progress, Timeline

Novartis CEO Talks Coronavirus Vaccine Progress, Timeline

The world is progressing towards a vaccine for the coronavirus with multiple large-scale and properly controlled studies exploring the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS) CEO Vas Narasimhan said on CNBC.

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Narasimhan said ongoing studies consist of giving doses of hydroxychloroquine to hospitalized patients and other people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. The trials are moving at a rapid pace, including a Novartis-sponsored study and other investigative trials and "a lot more data" should come out within the following month.

Narasimhan said it's already known from pre-clinical studies involving animals so far have shown that hydroxychloroquine is "quite active against the coronavirus." Meanwhile, the drug is currently being used across the world as doctors are vying to give patients "any option they can."

Why It's Important

It's too early to declare hydroxychloroquine is a proven therapy for coronavirus and this conclusion can't be reached until the properly controlled and randomized studies are completed, he said.

Novartis and its rivals are also actively testing existing medicines to see if it can "kill the virus" in people or help boost the immune system that the virus targets, Narasimhan said.

What's Next

Novartis along with multiple other companies announced Thursday a new partnership with the Gates Foundation in which Narasimhan will serve as co-chair. He said the objective is to find novel therapies to treat the infection. But any working vaccine is likely 18 to 24 months away and this is the "definitive way" to deal with the pandemic.

The one important aspect of a vaccine to keep in mind is that it is given to healthy people and needs to be proven before to be both safe and effective, he said. As such, the more pressing near-term priority is to take existing drugs to treat the virus or treat the auto-immune reaction. A "realistic" timeline for this achievement is over the next 12 months.


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