The Trump administration is putting aside drug price drama and trying to help pharma develop coronavirus treatments and vaccines faster.
On Monday, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar met with pharma companies as they develop treatments for coronavirus.
“We’re here working with the pharmaceutical company leaders on three key issues: how do we speed vaccines, how do we speed therapeutics, and what are the supply chain challenges that we may be facing for pharmaceutical products here in the United States,” Azar said in the meeting. “With regard to therapeutics and vaccines, we want to know how we can not get in their way but rather speed that development process along.”
Administration officials met with 10 pharma companies: GSK, Sanofi, J&J, Pfizer, Gilead, Regeneron, Moderna, Inovio, CureVac and Novavax.
Each company described what its treatment was focused on and the technology behind it. President Trump seemed most concerned about pharma companies working together and the timing of a vaccine or treatment.
Leaders from pharma companies including Sanofi, Regeneron and Novavax said they expect to have a vaccine ready for phase 1 trials by the summer and could have a final product ready in about a year.
But Trump continued to push these companies on how quickly they could have the treatment ready. Lenny Schleifer, founder and CEO of Regeneron, explained the danger of bringing a product to the market too quickly.
“I sense the cautiousness of [Tony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] and he’s right to be cautious,” Schleifer said in the meeting. “Vaccines have to be tested because there’s precedence for vaccines to actually make diseases worse. You don’t want to rush and make it — you don’t want to rush and treat a million people and find out you’re making 900,000 of them worse.”
Other officials, including Azar and Fauci, jumped in to manage expectations when Trump claimed that a vaccine or treatment would be ready in just a few months, explaining that was when human trials would begin.
“Would you make sure you get the President the information that a vaccine that you make and start testing in a year is not a vaccine that’s deployable,” Fauci said. “He’s asking the question, ‘When is it going to be deployable?’ and that is going to be, at the earliest, a year to a year and a half, no matter how fast you go.”
A member of the press asked whether the federal government would provide money to pharma companies to develop these vaccines, but Trump dismissed the idea, saying “they’re so rich … they don’t need money.”
“They need time,” he continued. “I think what they need more than anything else … is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and [Fauci] to help them get through the [trial and approval] process as quickly as possible, the bureaucratic stuff.”