Infectious disease therapies have been awarded the highest number of National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants over the last 20 years, according to GlobalData’s Pharmaceutical Intelligence Center’s deals database. The Covid-19 pandemic shed light on the importance of funding for drug development in this crucial therapy area. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programmes encourage innovation and technological development from small businesses with a focus on commercialisation. These programmes allocate hundreds of grants each year for infectious disease commercialisation, especially at crucial early stages of development.

Almost 94% of SBIR and STTR grants for the infectious disease were awarded at the discovery and preclinical deal stages, as shown in Figure 1, reflecting the early stage focus of the SBIR and STTR funding and its purpose of spurring innovation in R&D. Phase II received 75 grants, the third-highest number, representing 4% of all grants awarded SBIR/STTR funding from 2000 to 2020.

Drugs being developed for Covid-19 were awarded the highest number of grants at 187, followed by malaria with 132 grants. The vast majority awarded to drugs that are currently indicated for Covid-19 were awarded pre-2020, before the pandemic began, indicating that the original indication of the drug was repurposed. Figure 2 shows the trend of grants awarded over time, with only six grants being awarded from June to December 2020. These six grants include two totalling over $1m that were awarded to Soligenix’s preclinical prophylactic vaccine, CiVax. The other four grants were given to Merck’s Phase III fusion protein MK-7110, Triterpenoid Therapeutics’ preclinical small molecule TTX-01, Everys Bio’s unnamed small molecules to inhibit SIRT2 and Tendel Therapies’ unnamed Covid-19 recombinant vector vaccine.

It is unclear how many companies have considered repurposing drugs for Covid-19 in an attempt to revitalise development with the hope that drugs that have had limited success could be quickly brought to market if indicated for Covid-19.

Drugs that have received NIH grants since the Covid-19 pandemic began could have an advantage over companies repurposing drugs. NIH funding supports the advancement of drug development towards commercialisation and it, therefore, seems likely that those companies with SBIR/STTR funding given for innovative Covid-19 assets will benefit from accelerated drug development.