Pfizer has announced progress in its research programme to develop antivirals and vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus infection.

The company identified a lead drug candidate. According to findings from initial screening assays, analogues of the compound are potent SARS-CoV-2 3C-like (3CL) protease inhibitors.

Pfizer said that preliminary data revealed antiviral activity of the candidate against the novel coronavirus. The company will conduct pre-clinical confirmatory studies, including anti-viral profiling and suitability for intravenous administration clinically.

Furthermore, the company is making preparations to conduct a clinical study of the lead candidate in the third quarter of this year.

Azithromycin review

The company is planning to publish a review of azithromycin’s in-vitro and clinical data as an antiviral compound. This open-access review is expected to enable the evaluation of azithromycin in future Covid-19 research.

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Vaccine development

Pfizer also announced its global collaboration agreement with BioNTech to jointly develop an mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine.

The companies signed a letter of intent last month and started working immediately in the wake of the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Pfizer and BioNTech agreed to jointly perform clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccine candidate, with plans to begin studies by the end of this month.

Initially, the trials will take place in the US and Europe.

As per estimates, millions of vaccine doses could be supplied by the end of 2020 and rapidly scaled up to hundreds of millions of doses capacity next year.

Pfizer will make $185m upfront payments to BioNTech, which is also eligible for milestone payments of up to $563m for a total consideration of $748m.

The companies will equally share development costs. Pfizer will initially fund the complete development costs and BioNTech will reimburse its 50% share during commercialisation.

Analysis of existing drugs

Pfizer has partnered with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s Respiratory Infection Clinical Research Group for two studies on the interaction between S pneumoniae and SARS-CoV-2.

The aim of SAFER and FASTER studies is to understand the risk of Covid-19 patients also contracting pneumococcal pneumonia and whether having both infections results in more severe disease and poor outcomes.

A separate Phase II study will also be started this month to assess Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitor tofacitinib in patients with SARS-CoV-2 interstitial pneumonia in Italy.

The company is also seeking to further explore tofacitinib and other immune modulators in its portfolio.