Biotechnology spearheads the fight against COVID-19

Learn how biotechnology can contribute towards fighting COVID-19 in our latest blog post.

In these uncertain times of spreading coronavirus pandemic, it is ever more critical to work together to address the current challenges, show solidarity, and responsibility. EuropaBio and the entire biopharmaceutical industry are ready to contribute with the highest level of priority.

Biotechnology has a frontline role in helping with the current coronavirus situation. Great amounts of research and clinical testing work are being done in the biotechnology industry around developing antiviral treatments and ensuring access to essential medicines.

What is the coronavirus?

There are a number of 'coronaviruses' which cause respiratory problems and range from the common cold to more serious disease such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Coronaviruses are so called because of the spikes that protrude from their surfaces, resembling a crown or the sun's corona. The current strain, referred to by the World Health Organization (WHO) as COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease 2019), is thought to be less fatal than SARS and MERS, infecting fewer children, and causing fewer complications than the 2003 and 2012 viruses respectively.

How is biotechnology helping the fight against COVID-19?

The biotechnology industry is centrally placed in being able to tackle the spread and containment of the current coronavirus. Biotechnology focuses on working with human cells and gene mechanisms. In this sense, applying biotechnology techniques offers an advantage over traditional pharmaceutical approaches, empowering our understanding of the working mechanisms of a virus by exploring its genetics and translating this information into workable material to pursue an antiviral treatment or a vaccine. Moreover, a successful biotechnology treatment may potentially enable an immediate immune response by a COVID-19 infected patient rather than needing to wait for a protective response triggered by a vaccine.

A gene sequence of COVID-19 was first published by Chinese researchers on January 9th, 2020.

What is the biotechnology industry currently doing against COVID-19?

At least 60 biotechnology companies are actively developing therapeutic responses to the virus. Promising solutions may be found in antiretroviral drugs which were previously developed for HIV/AIDS, as well as in working with research previously done on the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. The current priority is the speed of development of these potential treatments and to know as quickly as possible whether they are safe and efficacious.

Here are some of the most recent updates:

  • A medicine developed by Gilead to fight the Ebola virus has produced promising results in combating COVID-19. It targets the enzymes that viruses use to replicate themselves. Clinical trials are currently ongoing in China, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.
  • Sanofi and Regeneron have started a Phase II/III clinical trial for patients hospitalised with COVID-19. They have identified hundreds of virus-neutralizing antibodies, some of which have been isolated from people that have already recovered from COVID-19.
  • Pfizer have issued a five-point action plan to tackle the virus which centres on sharing available tools and expertise with other companies, including late-stage development and manufacturing capabilities, while also focusing on how to improve future response to such pandemics.
  • The Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) have developed an antibody which can bind the coronavirus and is currently undergoing further testing.

Simultaneously, the biotechnology industry is working in tandem with national and international government agencies, including the European Medicines Agency, to ensure continued and uninterrupted access to essential supplies and life-saving products for patients who rely on them. In doing so, EuropaBio's members are keeping up to date with ongoing developments and needs, while ensuring ample communication to secure supply chains and alleviate concerns. At this time, it is critical that the European Commission and Member States work together for coordinating activities to continue to allow the movement of medicines and vaccines as well as medical equipment from manufacturing sites across Europe to patients that need them the most.

We encourage people to stay safe following relevant national guidelines and keep informed via official governmental information channels.


Find all information and regular updates on COVID-19 here.