Business

Japan's largest drugmaker working to develop virus treatment, Dow Jones reports

Bloomberg

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. is developing an experimental therapy for the novel coronavirus with the goal of making it available in 9 to 18 months, the nation’s largest drugmaker said.

“We will do all that we can to address the novel coronavirus threat,” Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, president of Takeda’s vaccine business unit and head of the response team, said in a statement Wednesday. The initiative to develop a plasma-derived therapy takes advantage of a business Takeda gained in its $62 billion acquisition of Shire Plc in 2018.

Drugmakers such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Moderna Inc. are working to develop treatments for the coronavirus that emerged in China late last year. While pharmaceutical companies respond with swift solutions against the COVID-19 outbreak, the potential payoffs are murky at best. Development typically takes years. By the time they’re ready, the crisis has often abated, leaving little incentive to carry on with the work.

“The plasma-derived therapies business from Shire was crucial,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Caroline Stewart. “I think this may be a better approach than others are taking. At least conceptually this should have a higher chance of success, but of course we won’t know until there are actual results from clinical trials.”

The drug development would use the blood of those who have recovered from the disease to help strengthen the immune system of patients, according to a Takeda statement Wednesday. The company plans to share its plans with the U.S. government today. Dow Jones earlier reported that Takeda was developing the treatment.

Pharmaceutical companies will need to be more proactive about preparing for disease outbreaks as the global population increases and the climate changes, Takeda Chief Executive Officer Christophe Weber told Bloomberg in early February. “Whatever you do, it will always take time to bring a treatment for vaccines,” Weber said.

That’s what happened with SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, another type of coronavirus that killed almost 800 people in an outbreak 17 years ago before fading away within months. A previous collaboration between Sanofi and a U.S. body to make a shot against the Zika virus also fizzled, as have some attempts by pharma giants to prepare for future epidemics.

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