Coronavirus News Roundup: Mask Shortages, Drug Development, and FDA Response

February 7, 2020

The latest in how consumers are reacting to the new coronavirus, how it’s impacting pharmacies, and response efforts.

The 2019 novel coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, continues to dominate headlines as more cases emerge in the United States. As of February 5, the CDC has confirmed 11 positive tests of the virus in US patients.1

Here is a roundup of the latest coronavirus-related news:

1. Pharmacists are running short on surgical masks due to coronavirus fears, according to a new survey.2

The NCPA survey found that 96% of pharmacists are realizing a shortage of surgical masks, whereas 38% are running short on surgical masks. Some pharmacists are also running short on gloves and hand sanitizers.

A third of pharmacists said coronavirus is a significant public health threat, while 54% said their customers are very worried about it, according to the survey.

“The news coverage is clearly affecting consumer behavior,” said Brian Caswell, president of NCPA and owner of Wolkar Pharmacy in Baxter Springs, KS. “Pharmacists are divided on whether the coronavirus is a serious health threat, but a strong majority of their customers are highly concerned.”

Although 32% of pharmacists surveyed said the coronavirus is a significant public health threat, 42% disagree and 26% are unsure.

“It’s wise to be prepared, but there’s no reason for Americans to panic,” Caswell said. “The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Only a handful of Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus in this country and there are not yet any fatalities.”

Caswell’s advice to concerned consumers is to “remember to wash their hands frequently, avoid crowds if possible, and disinfect the things they touch. And if they have any questions, they should absolutely feel free to stop by the local pharmacy and talk to the pharmacist. That’s why we’re here,” he said.

2. FDA issues emergency use authorization (EUA) for the first 2019-nCoV diagnostic.3

In other coronavirus news, the FDA issued an EUA to enable emergency use of a coronavirus test–specifically the CDC’s 2019-nCoV Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel. “To date, this test has been limited to use at CDC laboratories; today’s authorization allows the use of the test at any CDC-qualified lab across the country,” the FDA said in a press release.

“Since this outbreak first emerged, we’ve been working closely with our partners across the US government and around the globe to expedite the development and availability of critical medical products to help end this outbreak as quickly as possible,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD, said in the release. “This continues to be an evolving situation and the ability to distribute this diagnostic test to qualified labs is a critical step forward in protecting the public health.”

3. Gilead Sciences is donating its experimental antiviral drug remdesivir for clinical trials involving patients with coronavirus in China.4

Patients will get 10 once-daily infusions of the drug, which has been shown effective in laboratory testing against coronaviruses, or a placebo and be evaluated after 28 days to determine whether the drug helped.5

4. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will collaborate with Regeneron to develop treatment.6

HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) will expand an existing collaboration with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to develop a drug to treat coronavirus.

"Emerging infectious diseases can present serious threats to our nation's health security," said Rick Bright, PhD, deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response and director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) at ASPR, in a press release. "Working as public-private partners like we have with Regeneron since 2014, we can move rapidly to respond to new global health threats.”

BARDA and Regeneron will leverage their partnership agreement to develop multiple monoclonal antibodies that, individually or in combination, could be used to treat 2019-nCoV.

Related: New Coronavirus Declared Public Health Emergency of Global Concern

References:

1. CDC. 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the US. Updated February 5, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html.

2. Coronavirus Causing a Run on Masks, National Pharmacy Survey Shows [news release]. NCPA’s website. https://www.ncpanet.org/newsroom/news-releases/2020/02/06/coronavirus-causing-a-run-on-masks-national-pharmacy-survey-shows.

3. FDA Takes Significant Step in Coronavirus Response Efforts, Issues Emergency Use Authorization for the First 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diagnostic [news release]. FDA’s website. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-takes-significant-step-coronavirus-response-efforts-issues-emergency-use-authorization-first.

4. Gilead Sciences Statement on the Company’s Ongoing Response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Gilead’s website. https://www.gilead.com/news-and-press/company-statements/gilead-sciences-statement-on-the-company-ongoing-response-to-the-2019-new-coronavirus.

5. Langreth R. Trials of Gilead Coronavirus Drug in China Could Start Next Week. Bloomberg. Published February 4, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-04/trials-of-gilead-coronavirus-drug-in-china-could-start-next-week.

6. HHS, Regeneron Collaborate to Develop 2019-nCoV Treatment [news release]. HHS’ website. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/02/04/hhs-regeneron-collaborate-to-develop-2019-ncov-treatment.html.