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Public money paid for majority of COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutic clinical trials


Study examines funding sources for 18 months of pandemic in 2020, 2021.

Public money paid for majority of COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutic clinical trials

Public money covered the majority of costs of developing vaccines and therapeutics for more than 18 months in the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

There were 1,977 clinical trials addressing COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines from Jan. 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2021, according to the new study, “Funding Sources of Therapeutic and Vaccine Clinical Trials for COVID-19 vs Non-COVID-10 Indications, 2020-2021,” published Aug. 16 in JAMA Network Open.

Among them:

  • 1,144, or 57.9%, were funded by public sources
  • 540, or 27.3%, were paid for by industry
  • 293, or 14.8%, were funded by public-private partnerships (PPPs)

Most of the studies (1,680, or 85%) focused on developing anti-COVID-19 therapeutics instead of vaccines (297, or 15%), according to the study. For therapeutics, the public sector paid for 1,039, or 61.8%, of the studies, with 413, or 24.6%, funded by the private sector and 228, or 13.6%, paid for by PPPs.

For vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry paid for 127, or 42.8%, of the studies. Public funding covered costs of 105, or 35.4%, clinical trials, while PPPs paid for 297, or 15%, of clinical trials.

“New vaccines reached the market within the first year of the pandemic and numerous repurposed drugs were in the late stages of clinical development, representing an unprecedented historical achievement,” the researchers wrote. Public-private partnerships, or joint efforts linking government, industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations, helped, the study said. The authors cited the U.S. National Institutes of Health-led Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines partnership, and Operation Warp Speed, the program that coordinated efforts of the U.S. federal government and the private sector.

Even so, little was known about funding sources for COVID-19 clinical trials, the study said. It did not include an actual dollar amount spent to develop the vaccines and therapeutics, but various estimates have put the figure in the billions of dollars.

“Taken together, our results indicate that the public sector was most likely instrumental in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics,” the study said. “Thus, it would be critical to determine way to safeguard both the affordability and global access to these health-sustaining modalities. The public sector facilitated critical (research and development) investments and provided funding that extended beyond basic research to include late-state clinical development, notably during the early phases of the pandemic.”

COVID-19 studies may have received the most public attention during the study period, but during the same time, they were 13.9% of the 14,274 trials registered worldwide, the study said.

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