Coronavirus News Roundup: Drug Shortages, Clinical Trials, Testing Resources for Pharmacies

April 17, 2020

Here's a roundup of the latest coronavirus-related news.

This week on the pandemic front: neighborhood pharmacies’ concerns about drug shortages, early reports of promising clinical trial results, and pharmacy support to aid the straining health care system.

Here’s a roundup of the latest coronavirus-related news:

What Will COVID-19 Transmission Look Like Post Pandemic?

Whether resurgence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) occurs post pandemic may depend on its duration of immunity, according to a new study published in Science.

The study findings suggested that recurrent wintertime outbreaks of the infection could be possible if the virus enters into regular circulation.

Despite current social distancing, resurgences of the virus are possible after the initial pandemic wave, which could prompt prolonged or intermittent periods of social distancing in the future, the study’s investigators indicated. Experts postulate a couple of scenarios for how the pandemic could play out. Two of these scenarios suggest that either SARS-CoV-2 may follow its closest genetic relative, SARS CoV-1, and be eradicated after a brief, but intense epidemic, or resemble a pandemic influenza by circulating seasonally after the initial global wave of infection.

NCPA Survey: Nearly 90% of Community Pharmacists Report Drug Shortages

The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) announced the results from their latest survey, which found that nearly 90% of neighborhood pharmacies have experienced drug shortages since March 1, 2020, according to a press release.

Among the most common drug shortages reported by neighborhood pharmacists were albuterol inhalers, hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, as well as others that have seen spikes in demand since the outbreak began.2 Hydroxychloroquine has seen particularly high demand after President Trump expressed its potential for treating severe COVID-19 symptoms; the American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association, and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists have recently communicated concerns on inappropriate dispensing of hydroxychloroquine.

Pharmacists remain on the frontlines of the pandemic; last week, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decided to allow licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests, and the NCPA survey showed that more than half of neighborhood pharmacies plan to perform point-of-care COVID-19 testing once available.

Insulin Affordability Options Expand During COVID-19

In the wake of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, both insulin manufacturers and legislators in some states are stepping in to ensure patients with diabetes are able to afford life-saving medications.

Following announcements of its recently-launched Lilly Insulin Value Program, Eli Lilly has made available non-branded versions of insulin lispro protamine and insulin lispro injectable suspension 100 units/mL (Humalog Mix 75/25 KwikPen) and insulin lispro injection, 100 units/mL (Humalog Junior KwikPen) at a 50% lower list price than branded versions.

Temple University Hospital Begins Clinical Trial of Gimsilumab for Combatting COVID-19

Temple University Hospital has treated its first patient with the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in their clinical study evaluating gimsilumab for treatment of severe symptoms, according to a press release.

The BREATHE clinical trial will analyze the effect of administering intravenous gimsilumab on mortality for individuals with COVID-19 and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Collaborate to Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced its plan to join forces to create a vaccine to combat the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a press release.

The announcement said that the pharmaceutical giants expect to shorten the vaccine process considerably. Although it often takes nearly a decade to introduce a new vaccine to the market,  the companies expect to start their clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and, if effective, the vaccine could be available in late 2021.

Studies Evaluate Remdesivir for COVID-19, but Data Still Limited

New data of remdesivir for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) through its compassionate use program showed clinical improvement in the majority of patients treated with the experimental therapy who were analyzed, according an analysis published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Meanwhile, a new paper examining the mechanisms of remdesivir’s actions reinforces the promise of clinical trials for the drug in patients with COVID-19.

However, data are still limited and will require future controlled clinical trials to better determine remdesivir’s use as a treatment for COVID-19.

Community Pharmacists in Taiwan Helped Keep COVID-10 Death, Cases Way Down

Compared with many other countries, including the United States, Taiwan has largely avoided the high morbidity and mortality associated with the COVID-19 outbreak seen in other regions of the world.

In an opinion piece published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, community pharmacists were credited with helping to mitigate the spread of infections throughout the country.

“Often serving as the first point of contact between individuals and the health care system, community pharmacists offered education and consultation on proper hygiene strategies, disseminated accurate information to counter myths and misinformation, and provided emotional support to alleviate public concerns arising from the COVID-19 crisis,” wrote Huang-Tz Ou, Ph.D., of National Cheng Kung University, and Yea-Huei Kao Yang, BS, at the university’s School of Pharmacy.

FDA Approves Use of Rutgers University Saliva Test for COVID-19

Officials with the FDA granted emergency use authorization (EAU) to Rutgers University’s new test for SARS-CoV-2 that utilizes saliva, according to Rutgers University. 

In collaboration with Spectrum Solutions and Accurate Diagnostic Labs, RUCDR Infinite Biologics developed the new collection approach, which utilizes saliva as the primary test biomaterial for the virus, making it the first of its kind to be approved. The new method will allow or broader population screening. Currently, tests for COVID-19 utilize nose and throat swabs.

Study Supports Links Between Loss of Smell, Taste and COVID-19 Infection

New research has identified an association between sensory loss and novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) infection, indicating that loss of smell and taste may be considered early symptoms of the virus, according to a study published in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology.1 
Although sensory loss has been anecdotally linked to COVID-19 infection, there have been no clinical data to support this association. These are the first empirical findings reported that strongly provide evidence of sensory loss as a COVID-19 symptom, which may help further facilitate screening and early isolation of cases.

OmniSYS Provides Free Resource to Help Pharmacies Operationalize COVID-19 Testing

Following the Department of Health and Human Services' announcement to allow licensed pharmacists to order and administered COVID-19 tests, OmniSYS has announced offerings to assist pharmacies in operationalizing COVID-19 testing.

According to a company press release, OmniSYS is providing all pharmacies free access to the OmniSYS Training Center™, a resource used to help guide pharmacists through all aspects of the process to operationalize COVID-19 testing, including required waivers, enrollment, documentation, medical benefit coverage, and billing. In addition, all existing customers of the OmniSYS cloud-based pharmacy electronic health record (EHR) will receive immediate access to COVID-19 testing encounter forms to support automated documentation, reimbursement (where permitted), and care plan communication at no additional cost.

NIH Begins Clinical Trial of Hydroxycholoroquine for COVID-19

Hydroxychloroquine, an experimental therapy for COVID-19 is being investigated in a clinical trial led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to the agency. The trial, which will evaluate the drug’s safety and efficacy in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, has begun with its first participants now enrolled in Tennessee.

Although preliminary reports have implicated hydroxychloroquine’s use in treating patients with COVID-19, clinical trial data is needed to determine its safety and efficacy in this setting.

The trial, called the Outcomes Related to COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine among In-patients with symptomatic Disease (ORCHID) study, enrolled its first participants at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The study will include more than 500 adults who are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 or in an emergency department with anticipated hospitalization.