President Joe Biden speaks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, United States on Monday, March 29, 2021.

Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The US is investing $ 3.2 billion to advance the development of antiviral pills to treat Covid-19 and other viruses with pandemic potential, the Biden government announced on Thursday.

The new program – called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics – is a “state effort” that will accelerate clinical trials of promising drug candidates and develop next generation treatments for Covid and other viruses that could cause future pandemics, White House chief medical advisor Dr . Anthony Fauci during a press conference.

As part of the plan, the National Institutes of Health will “evaluate, prioritize and advance” antiviral candidates for phase two clinical trials and “guide candidates on development pathways,” according to a separate announcement by the administration.

Vaccines remain “the heart” of the US arsenal against Covid, which is also director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told reporters during a White House briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. “Antivirals can and are an important addition to existing vaccines, especially for people with certain medical conditions that put them at higher risk,” or who are immunocompromised, he added.

While vaccines have been very effective at containing infection in the US, officials say the nation needs even more treatments for people who contract the virus and for those whose immune systems are not responding well to vaccines.

A number of treatments for Covid are under development and could be marketed in the US by the end of the year. Pfizer, for example, began an early clinical trial in March testing an experimental oral drug to treat Covid at the first sign of disease.

The drug belongs to a class of drugs called protease inhibitors and works by blocking an enzyme that the virus needs to replicate in human cells. Protease inhibitors are used to treat other viral pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C.

The Biden administration’s plan sees more than $ 300 million in research and laboratory support, nearly $ 1 billion in preclinical and clinical evaluation, and nearly $ 700 million in development and manufacture by NIAID and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

In addition, the plan provides up to $ 1.2 billion to help form drug discovery groups that target coronaviruses and possibly other viruses.

“The remarkable and rapid development of vaccines and testing technologies has shown how agile scientific discovery can be when we combine the resources of public authorities, private institutions and the most brilliant and creative minds in our country,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins said in a statement.

“We will leverage those same strengths as we build a platform for the discovery and development of effective antivirals that will help us defeat COVID-19 and better prepare for potential future viral pathogens,” he added.