A COVID-19 Cure: To Be or Not to Be?

By Dr. Brian Abrahams
Published April 9, 2020 | 2 min read

The race is on for vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Brian Abrahams, RBC’s Co-Head of Biotechnology Research, shares his thoughts on "The 10-Minute Take", a new podcast series dedicated to providing the point of view of market experts on events unfolding around the globe.

Required Conflicts Disclosures

For the latest research on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, please visit RBC Insight.



The Race to Create a COVID-19 Vaccine

A vaccine for COVID-19 is the light at the end of the tunnel society is hoping for, but it could take as short as 9 to 12 months or as long as 18 to 24 months to be introduced. However, it is critical to understand that releasing a vaccine is not without risk. If not properly developed, the immune response generated by a vaccine could possibly make the COVID-19 disease worse if you get exposed, instead of protecting you. So while a vaccine is not a guaranteed solution, there are significant scientific resources being leveraged around the world to overcome these challenges to develop and test potential vaccines. 

Hydroxychloroquine: Unproven Drug or Miracle Cure?

Hydroxychloroquine has emerged as one of the leading drugs dominating headlines to potentially treat COVID-19, with its risk/benefit profile continuing to be heavily debated. The four published studies that have been conducted on hydroxychloroquine’s efficacy to treat COVID-19 to date have been confounded by flawed data analysis of trial designs, and cherry-picking of end points that may have inflated its treatment effect.

If hydroxychloroquine does not prove to be the treatment we are looking for, hope is not lost. There are at least 50 treatments in the works right now with several in large-scale Phase 3 trials. Remdesivir is one of the potential COVID-19 therapies that is furthest along in the development process, and we will be receiving the results of its clinical trials later this month. Any of these treatments is not likely to be a silver bullet, but we are hopeful that it will shorten the length of hospital stays and reduce the mortality rate by at least a modest percentage.

The Challenging Road Ahead

While a vaccine is probably not realistic before 2021, and effective treatments could be months away, the gravity of this pandemic has us racing against the clock. Normally we might spend years creating and optimizing new agents before testing them, but with COVID-19 we are compelled to test drugs that already exist to shrink the timeline from discovery to marketplace.

Heterogeneity is another issue: the COVID-19 disease appears to manifest differently for different people. Some people can be asymptomatic and have mild symptoms, whereas others end up with a life-threatening condition, which makes assessing treatment that much more difficult.

“If people are looking for a magic bullet where we wake up one day a few weeks from now and biotech has cured coronavirus, that’s probably wishful thinking.”

While we are still in the early innings for treatments, having more tools in physician’s armamentarium, alongside social distancing, broader testing, better identification of risk factors, development of herd immunity and ultimately a vaccine will all help slow infectivity and eventually enable some return to normalcy.

Brian Abrahams recently authored a new research report “Biotech: Our Take on the Hydroxychloroquine Debate.” For more information about the full report, please contact your RBC sales representative.

For Required Conflicts Disclosures, click here. These disclosures are also available by sending a written request to RBC Capital Markets Research Publishing, P.O. Box 50, 200 Bay Street, Royal Bank Plaza, 29th Floor, South Tower, Toronto, Ontario M5J 2W7 or sending an email to rbcinsight@rbccm.com.

Dr. Brian Abrahams

Dr. Brian Abrahams
Co-Head of Biotechnology Research
RBC Capital Markets, LLC