Not surprisingly, COVID-19First identified in 2019 in Wuhan, China, Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It has spread globally, resulting in the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.”>COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral treatments dominated headlines in 2021. But in addition to these breakthroughs, pharmaceutical and biotech companies continued to work on new technologies to treat other diseases. A cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society, highlights the year in pharma for COVID-19 and beyond.
Two years into the pandemic, the drug industry has affirmed its strength in tackling public health crises, writes Associate Editor Ryan Cross. COVID-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech and were rolled out across the U.S. The success of the latter two vaccines, which are based on messenger RNARibonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule similar to DNA that is essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. Both are nucleic acids, but unlike DNA, RNA is single-stranded. An RNA strand has a backbone made of alternating sugar (ribose) and phosphate groups. Attached to each sugar is one of four bases—adenine (A), uracil (U), cytosine (C), or guanine (G). Different types of RNA exist in the cell: messenger RNA (mRNA), ribosomal RNA (rRNA), and transfer RNA (tRNA).”>RNA (mRNA), spurred excitement and investment in other mRNA technologies, such as CRISPR gene-editing systems and protein replacement therapies. Although vaccines remain the first line of defense against SARS-CoV-2Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the official name of the virus strain that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Previous to this name being adopted, it was commonly referred to as the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the Wuhan coronavirus, or the Wuhan virus.”>SARS-CoV-2, oral antivirals could be a powerful tool to end the pandemic, researchers say. Two of the most promising antiviral pills, Merck’s molnupiravir and Pfizer’s PF-0732133, decreased hospitalization and death rates in clinical trials of unvaccinated people who had risk factors for severe COVID-19.
In other developments this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a controversial drug, Biogen’s Aduhelm, for the treatment of Alzheimer’sAlzheimer’s disease is a disease that attacks the brain, causing a decline in mental ability that worsens over time. It is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. There is no current cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications that can help ease the symptoms.”>Alzheimer’s disease. Although the antibody medication reduced amyloid-β plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients by more than half in two clinical trials, it slowed cognitive decline by a modest amount in only one of the trials. The controversy and negative press have contributed to little demand for Aduhelm from patients, neurologists report. Other therapies that showed promise in 2021 include psychedelic drugs for mental illness, stem cell therapies for diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, and base-editing treatments for sickle cell disease.
The article, “Another Year of Pharma,” is freely available here.