Reading the news on COVID-19 drug production in PNG has prompted me to do my take on it. Those who are familiar with drug research and development will agree with that screening for possible drug leads is just the start to call it a drug, there has to be research done and data available on the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profile of the drug.
Drug screening is the most basic step
Based on what I read in yesterday’s Post Courier, I get the impression that the academics have done simulations using existing drug molecules that are likely to have some drug activity against COVID19. In a drug development timeline, this is the most basic step – you screen a whole heap of possible molecules and come up with a few potential candidates. After this step, the real drug development research happens in the lab; Is it safe? What’s the mechanism of its actions? How is it absorbed, broken down, distributed in the body, excreted ? What is the best dosage to give? What are the side effects? How does it work in different groups of people? If there are existing treatment, does this one do better? How do you dispense this drug – through the mouth, injection etc?
Drug development is a lengthy process
After these parameters are determined, it leads to next stages that involve clinical research and finally a review done by regulatory authorities to get approval to be used as a ‘drug’. These steps can take up to 10 years, and one must have an equipped and accredited laboratory in order for the developed drug to be recognized. Because of the pandemic situation, teams around the world are fast tracking processes to find a possible vaccine for COVID-19. COVID-19, being a virus, makes it hard to find a drug cure – it is always several steps ahead, mutating and changing. Not only that, but unlike bacteria who have their own machinery to survive, viruses tend to use the host machinery (body) to replicate.
Scientists around the world sticking to vaccine development because drug development is problematic.
Development of a drug that will target only the virus without causing toxicity to the human host has proven difficult. Hence, many scientists worldwide are sticking to vaccine and not drug development. While I believe in PNG taking lead in drug research and development, I strongly feel that taking an approach that involves building the necessary infrastructure first, getting accreditation and looking at developing drugs that will target common illnesses seen in our country would be the way to go.
A well thought out plan with solid financial backing would do – not a novelty concept for COVID-19 which quite frankly, based on past virus outbreaks, could quickly resolve just like it appeared, making this endeavor for naught.
[This is my personal view as a citizen (with pharmaceutical science & pharmacology background) and does not represent that of any organization that I am associated with.]