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Coronavirus update: Novavax begins vaccine trials; Brazil reports second-highest number of cases in world

Anjalee Khemlani
Senior Reporter

Eased lockdowns and lifted restrictions have placed significant pressure on the global drug pipeline.

The global pandemic, which has affected more than 5.5 million, is forcing drugmakers and biotech firms of all sizes to shorten the timeline for a vaccine, which is essential to easing fears about returning to work and school. To-date, nearly a dozen companies in the U.S., Europe and China have started human trials for more than 100 vaccine candidates.

Most recently, Novavax (NVAX) announced it would begin human trials, for its coronavirus vaccine, making it the fourth company in the U.S. to do so. The biotech company is starting its clinical trials in Australia, and intends to produce 100 million doses by the end of the year and a billion doses in 2021.

Meanwhile, Merck (MRK), one of the largest players in the vaccine race, finally unveiled details of its efforts Tuesday. The company announced it will be acquiring a private Austrian vaccine producer, Themis Bioscience, as well as is partnering with nonprofit the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Merck also announced a partnership to advance its antiviral candidate as a treatment, which has shown to be effective in Phase 1 trials.

The vaccine race is heating up as countries are investing in companies to manufacture candidates in hopes they will succeed. To-date, Moderna (MRNA), Inovio (INO) and Pfizer (PFE) have also begun clinical trials, with Moderna furthest ahead in the U.S. Globally, China’s CanSino is in the lead.

Treatment options are also in the works, as no effective option has emerged. Gilead Science’s (GILD) remdesivir is considered moderately effective, based on its available trial data. Meanwhile, a study of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment has been temporarily paused by the World Health Organization.

The antimalarial drug touted by and being taken by President Donald Trump, has been safe to use for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients. It has been taken by Trump, doctors and others as a preventative COVID-19 drug, but it is not proving to be safe as a treatment for hospitalized patients, according a recent article in The Lancet journal.

“We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19. Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival,” the authors of the article wrote.

A new wave of cases emerge

The global coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the global economy as it moves into South America, even as the outbreak in the U.S. wanes.

MANAUS, BRAZIL - MAY 25: Nurses and doctors rescue a woman in critical conditions after being infected by coronavirus (COVID-19) from the airplane that took her from Parintins city to Manaus on May 25 2020 in Manaus, Brazil. Intensive Care Unit flights have been made daily to remote areas in Amazonas to rescue for patients seriously infected by coronavirus and bring them to Manaus, where the medical structure is bigger and more efficient. (Photo by Andre Coelho/Getty Images)

Brazil now has the second-highest number of reported cases, and is seeing exponential increases daily — higher than the number of new daily cases in the U.S. Brazil has struggled to find a consistent response as it has lost two health ministers in the past six weeks over disagreements with the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Meanwhile, Japan, one of the earliest hit countries, reopened this past weekend. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was postponed as the pandemic took hold globally, and a non-binding emergency order was put in place with schools, businesses and movie theaters agreeing to close on April 7. A roadmap to recovery includes gyms reopening in the first phase.

More than 346,000 have died from the virus globally. In the U.S. more than 1.6 million positive cases have been recorded, and more than 98,000 — the highest in the world— have died.

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

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