COVID-19 expected to reshape Canada's medicine pipeline

Latest report from PMPRB highlights influence of pandemic response efforts

COVID-19 expected to reshape Canada's medicine pipeline

While cancer treatments continued to dominate the therapeutic mix the drug pipeline in 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 is making itself felt.

According to the latest edition of the Meds Pipeline Monitor report issued by the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB), cancer treatments made up just over a third (35%) of the 6,946 new medicines in all phases of clinical trials last year.

Infectious disease treatments accounted for the second-largest share of the pipeline at 13%, and were expected to take on expected importance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of November 2020, 427 vaccines and therapies were being evaluated for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, according to PMPRB.

“In addition to the wide variety of vaccines underdevelopment, many novel and repurposed medicines are currently being evaluated in clinical trials for their potential benefits in the treatment of COVID-19,” the PMPRB report said.

Among the novel and repurposed medicines undergoing evaluation were antivirals, interferons, antimalarials, antiparasitics, and biologics, to name some.

Based on GlobalData information accessed by PMPRB for the report, 52 out of the 427 COVID-19 treatments being evaluated as of November 2020 were vaccines. Of those 16 were in Phase I trials, 23 were in Phase II, 10 were in Phase III, and 3 were in pre-registration.

“As of November 2020, Health Canada had received five applications for drug and vaccine authorizations,” the report said. It highlighted an interim order issued by the Minister of Health and approved in May 2020 under which potential COVID-19 drugs and medical devices were provided with an accelerated alternate pathway for clinical trials “while upholding strong patient safety requirements and validity of trial data.”

The clamour for access to COVID-19 vaccines has grown stronger over time. Polling by the Angus Reid Institute found that as of January, 60% of Canadians wanted to be injected with a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, compared to just 40% in November and 48% in December. Some Canadian snowbirds have flown to the U.S. for the chance to be vaccinated sooner, with Florida becoming a high-profile hot spot for some vacationing seniors to get their shots.