What We're Reading: FDA Panel in Favor of Merck COVID-19 Pill; Aspen Pharmacare, J&J Vaccine Agreement; Newest Strategies to Cure HIV

An FDA advisory panel voted in favor of emergency authorization for Merck's COVID-19 pill; South African drug maker Aspen Pharmacare announced that it was finalizing the first agreement to control production of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Africa; the International AIDS Society launched its latest strategy to find a cure for HIV.

FDA Panel Votes in Favor of Merck COVID-19 Pill

A panel of experts advising the FDA voted 13 to 10 in favor of emergency use authorization of Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics’ COVID-19 antiviral pill, NPR reported. If the FDA authorizes use of the pill, molnupiravir, it would be the first at-home oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Although the panel had reservations about prescribing the pill for pregnant people, it ultimately decided that it should be that patient’s decision. The FDA is not obligated to follow the panel’s recommendations but typically does. The agency is also considering authorization for a similar pill from Pfizer, called Paxlovid.

Aspen Pharmacare Finalizes Vaccine Production Agreement With J&J

South African drug maker Aspen Pharmacare announced that it was finalizing the first agreement to control production of a COVID-19 vaccine in Africa, as reported by The New York Times. This deal with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) would allow Aspen to package and market the J&J vaccine across the continent under the brand name Aspenovax, as well as determine who can purchase the vaccine and at what price and quantity. Aspen currently bottles the vaccine but has no say in where it is shipped to. The deal does not give Aspen rights to produce the vaccine—instead, J&J will direct other facilities to make the ingredients, which will be sent to Aspen to blend into vaccine doses.

International AIDS Society Launches Newest Strategy to Find HIV Cure

The International AIDS Society (IAS) has launched its latest strategy to find a cure for HIV, as stated in a press release. The third edition of the IAS strategy comes soon after an Argentinean woman was cured of HIV through natural immunity, providing new hope for an HIV cure. Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the IAS and director of the Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS at the University of Malaya in Malaysia, claimed a cure for HIV is achievable, especially based on new scientific findings over the past 5 years. The IAS listed research goals for the next 5 years to find the cure, including understanding and measuring HIV reservoirs, targeting the provirus and immune system, and researching cell and gene therapy. The release also listed ways to target the HIV reservoir, including “poke and clear,” “block and lock,” and “reduce and control” methods.