Bill Gates, global health advocate and world’s richest man for 18 years, says novel coronavirus vaccine could be ready for large-scale trials by June 2020.
Gates, who is the co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also added that this virus has started to behave like a once-in-a-century pathogen.
In a paper written for the New England Journal of Medicine, Gates said leaders have two equally important responsibilities: solve the immediate problem and keep it from happening again.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent case in point. The world needs to save lives now while also improving the way we respond to outbreaks in general. The first point is more pressing, but the second has crucial long-term consequences,” Gates wrote.
“The long-term challenge—improving our ability to respond to outbreaks—isn’t new. Global health experts have been saying for years that another pandemic rivalling the speed and severity of the 1918 influenza epidemic wasn’t a matter of if but when.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed significant resources in recent years to helping the world prepare for such a scenario, and has most recently committed $100 million to battle the novel coronavirus.
Gates, who called on donor governments to help low- and middle-income countries, said: “the world also needs to accelerate work on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19”.
“Scientists were able to sequence the genome of the virus and develop several promising vaccine candidates in a matter of days, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is already preparing up to eight promising vaccine candidates for clinical trials.
“If one or more of these vaccines proves safe and effective in animal models, they could be ready for larger-scale trials as early as June.
“Drug discovery can also be accelerated by drawing on libraries of compounds that have already been tested for safety and by applying new screening techniques, including machine learning, to identify antivirals that could be ready for large-scale clinical trials within weeks.
“All these steps would help address the current crisis. But we also need to make larger systemic changes so we can respond more efficiently and effectively when the next epidemic arrives.”
VACCINES SHOULDN’T BE SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER
Gates also called on governments and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that vaccines are not sold to the highest bidders.
“Governments and industry will need to come to an agreement: During a pandemic, vaccines and antivirals won’t simply be sold to the highest bidder,” he said.
“They’ll be available and affordable for people who are at the heart of the outbreak and in greatest need. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also the right strategy for short-circuiting transmission and preventing future pandemics.
“These are the actions that leaders should be taking now. There is no time to waste.”
The coronavirus has spread to 56 countries as of February 28, 2020, infecting more than 80,000 people.
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