Tragedy and trying times brings out both the best and the worst in humanity. We have doctors and nurses risking their health and safety everyday to do battle with this virus, which has already taken so many from us. Then on the flipside we have televangelists like Jim Bakker and whatever the hell Alex Jones from Infowars is, trying to manipulate the population to hock products and defraud people. In the middle, we have for-profit pharmaceutical and biotech companies working hard to produce vaccines and treatments, so they can make money.

We rarely hear from the best of humanity. These are the doctor’s and nurses putting in the 18 hour days and getting a few hours of sleep in a crowded hallway since there are no beds left before getting back to work fighting this virus. They have a job to do and are too busy doing it to take a bow. Maybe they’ll take a bow after, if they’re still alive.

Then there are the worst, and we hear an awful lot from them.

There’s televangelist Jim Bakker, who hocked a proposed cure for the virus on his show, The Jim Bakker Show, over the weekend sitting next to a supposed natural health expert who claimed it would “totally eliminate it.  Kills it.  Deactivates it” within 12 hours.  And four 4-ounce bottles can be made available to you for the low low price of $80.

We don’t have actual stats on how much money has rolled in because of this twenty second spot, but we can rest assured that if it was more than $1 it was too much. Thankfully, cooler heads have since prevailed and the state of Missouri has filed a lawsuit against Bakker and his production company. Then there’s Alex Jones, who claimed his brand of toothpaste “kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range.” He’s since received his very own cease and desist order from New York’s Attorney General, because seriously.

In the middle, between selfless doctors and Jim Bakker and his fellow clowns, is everyone else and they’re doing the best they can. If you’re so inclined, here are three companies doing work on the virus, either directly or indirectly.

Fighting the virus

If you’ve got a lot of money and are in the market for big ticket stocks, there’s Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN.Q) and Sanofi, which announced the commencement of a clinical program evaluating Kevzara, a fully-human monoclonal antibody that inhibits a receptor that may play a role in driving the overactive inflammatory response in the lungs of patients suffering from COVID-19. The role of the receptor (IL-6) is supported by data from a Chinese study using another IL-6 receptor antibody.

The multi-center, double-blind, Phase 2/3 trial has an adaptive design with two parts and is anticipated to include up to 400 patient.s The first part will include COVID-19 patients from 16 U.S. sites, and determine the impact of the drug on fever and the patients’ need for supplemental oxygen. The second trial will evaluate the improvement in longer-term outcomes including preventing death and reducing the need for mechanical ventilation, supplemental oxygen and hospitalization.

“To initiate this trial quickly, so that the results may inform evidence-based treatment of this ongoing pandemic, Regeneron and Sanofi have worked closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, also known as the FDA and BARDA,” said George D. Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron.

If Regeneron’s $459 per share price tag is too much, then consider Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO.NYSE) which operates at almost half that. The FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the company’s diagnostic test, usable immediately by labs in the U.S. to detect nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and not for any other viruses or pathogens.

The company currently has 1.5 million tests available to ship under the EUA label and expects to quickly ramp up to reach 2 million tests per week. They expect to scale production up to 5 million tests per week during the month of April. The available tests will initially be distributed to approximately 200 labs in the U.S. and Thermo Fisher will continue to work in partnership with government agencies and private partners to expand access.

“The authorization of our diagnostic test for COVID-19 will help to protect patients and enable medical staff to respond swiftly to treat those who are ill and prevent the spread of infection. At Thermo Fisher, our Mission is to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. In partnership with the FDA and regulatory authorities around the world, we are committed to expanding the availability of diagnostic testing to prevent the spread of this disease,” said Marc N. Casper, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Thermo Fisher Scientific, on Friday.

Last we have something a bit more affordable at $0.24 per share.

Algernon Pharmaceuticals (AGN.C) filed its pre-IND (investigational new drug) meeting request with the FDA on Friday. This initiates formal communications with the FDA about the company’s repurposed NP-120 (Ifenprodil) for the treatment and prevention of acute lung injury (ALI) and acute respiratory distress syndrome closely associated with COVID-19. The request came with a complete pre-IND briefing document, which included a request for direction using Algernon’s injectable and slow release formulation, and use of the company’s available Ifenprodil drug supply for a U.S. clinical trial.

Why?

The company discovered that Ifenprodil reduced ALI and improved the survival rate by 40% in an animal study with mice infected with Asian H5N1. Asian H5N1 is the most lethal form of influenza to date with an over 50% mortality rate. The drug was also shown in a separate study to prolong survival under low oxygen (anoxic) conditions, which might be the case in patients with severely impaired lung function.

Ifenprodil H5N1 animal study background

A genome-wide RNAi interference approach to identify genes that aid in the recovery of cell viability after H5N1 infection, led to the identification of the NMDA receptor antagonist Ifenprodil, which when tested in an animal model of H5N1 infection showed:

  • Markedly decreased leukocyte infiltration and lung injury scores in effected lungs;
  • Significantly ameliorated edema infected mouse lung tissue;
  • Significantly improved the survival of H5N1 infected mice by 40 per cent.

The difference between snake-oil and science is care and patience. This speed is considered fast for these companies. The rollout is moving along at an advanced pace because of the need for the vaccine, and for diagnostic tools, and any variety of palliative care, but the steps need to be taken to ensure safety.

Medicine, techniques and treatments aren’t cheap. The days of Dr Frederick Banting, the Canadian scientist who discovered the therapeutic properties of insulin and gave it to the world free of charge, are gone and not coming back. Nobody is doing anything unless they can make a substantial profit from it.

There’s a reason for that as well, and it’s not all yachts and lambos. Although, to be honest, that’s part of it. Maybe too much, but that’s a discussion for another day. The processes behind scientific discovery and testing are expensive. Clinical trials have a heavy cost in both time and money, and we want them to take their time and get it right—otherwise we’re no better off than had we bought Jones’ toothpaste or some other fraudulent product.

Anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do right.

—Joseph Morton

Written By:

Joseph Morton

Joseph is a Vancouver-based author and journalist with both a communications degree and journalism diploma (and a few novels) under his belt. His joie de vivre is to spin difficult technical topics into more human-centric narratives. Buy him a coffee and he'll talk your ear off for hours about privacy issues, blockchain, cryptocurrency and martial arts. Don't talk to him if you're either a tomato, a bully, or if you're not a fan of either 1984 or Tender is the Night. No. You can still talk to him. Just be prepared to be told why you're wrong.

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Biotech
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Alex Jones
Algernon Pharmaceuticals
Coronavirus
COVID-19
FDA
FDA approval
Ifenprodil
Infowars
Jim Bakker
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals
REGN.Q
Sanofi
The Jim Bakker Show
Thermo Fisher Scientific
TMO.NYSE
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