US eyes boost to drug supply as WHO warns on vaccine optimism

The U.S. on Tuesday moved to shore up domestic drug stocks, with the Trump administration striking a deal to produce critical materials domestically in a bid to address persistent supply chain concerns.

With optimism building over an experimental coronavirus vaccine, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new public-private partnership to increase U.S.-based active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing.

The four-year, $354 million agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), with Virginia-based Phlow Corporation, will manufacture the supplies for medicines for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to HHS. The contract can be extended for up to $812 million over a 10-year period, as needed, according to HHS.

Officials are moving aggressively to address the U.S.’s reliance on foreign countries for key medical supplies, which has become a flashpoint in the COVID-19 pandemic. Raw materials for drugs are largely produced in India, China and Europe. However, the strain placed on the global supply chain by the virus has spurred the need to refocus efforts nationally.

The debate takes place against a backdrop of still rising U.S. coronavirus cases and a growing number of states moving to reopen their economies. More than 1.5 million have been infected and over 90,000 have perished; worldwide, nearly 5 million have been diagnosed and over 318,000 are dead.

In New York, the daily positive rate remains steady at 2,000 per day, a daunting number when considering the country is gearing up to begin contact tracing of all positive cases. New York City announced plans to launch 1,000 tracers by the end of the month.

Here to stay

The World Health Organization officials have repeated that the virus is here to stay for some time, and will dramatically alter how people function and interact.

In addition, like with HIV, some are concerned that a vaccine may still be a long way off — despite the promising news of Moderna’s (MRNA) clinical trials, which helped spark a massive rally on Wall Street Monday.

In an interview with Sky News, WHO special envoy David Nabarro cautioned that “We don’t want anyone to believe there is a vaccine round the corner, and that it’s going to be possible for everyone in the world to be vaccinated within a matter of months.”

Separately, some good news came this week in a new study from South Korean public health officials, which found that recovered patients testing positive have some level of protection — meaning they are not re-infected.

The news downplayed previous WHO concerns about no evidence of antibody protection. However, it still raises questions about how long antibodies provide protection. That issue is playing a key role in the vaccine race, as well as in debates over the widespread use of antibody testing.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell testified before a Senate committee Tuesday, which was reviewing the disbursement of the $2.2 trillion in federal funding approved in the CARES Act earlier this year.

Questions have been raised over whether or not the funding was distributed in ways to benefit the neediest, as Congress debates a fourth stimulus package.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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