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Stocking the Shelves for the Next Pandemic

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Stocking the Shelves for the Next Pandemic

Despite previous warnings, drug makers failed to prepare a stockpile of compounds to fight viral pandemics. Can they finally do the right thing?


5 min read
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Despite past pandemics, scientists and governments were not prepared with drugs to treat COVID-19.

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Humanity was entirely unprepared for COVID-19. Although other coronaviruses have crossed from animals to cause pandemics in the recent past, as soon as those pandemics faded away, any efforts to combat the responsible viruses faded away with them. This time, governments and pharmaceutical companies are banding together to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. As COVID-19 fades, hopefully people will retain the impetus to develop, find and, most importantly, test new antivirals. That way, people will be a bit more prepared for the next scourge when it arrives.


The NIH developed the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center to screen drugs for activity against viruses.

People should have been prepared for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). After all, enough zoonotic viruses have crossed over into humans already this century to serve as a warning. There was bird flu and the original SARS, a coronavirus, in 2003. Then there was Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), another coronavirus, in 2012. But humanity was woefully unprepared. Those epidemics were short-lived, and did not spur policy makers or scientists to develop, test or stockpile drugs. As soon as each crisis passed, it was as if it had never happened. Governments did not learn from them, and the pharmaceutical industry continued to focus its antiviral efforts on HIV and hepatitis C.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched ...

About the Author

Elie Dolgin is a freelance science writer, editor and podcaster in Somerville, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in NatureScienceNewsweekDiscoverSTAT and Nautilus.

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