A promising treatment for all forms of coronavirus was being developed years ago, but work on the drug was called off because pharmaceutical companies didn’t see any profit potential, a medical researcher revealed Thursday.
Now, as the novel coronavirus outbreak threatens millions of lives and has brought the global economy to a halt, Dr. William Haseltine told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that government action was now needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The good news is that there will be an end to this epidemic, whether it’s a natural end and it goes away or whether we develop the drugs that are antiviral drugs that we know we can develop,” said Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor and founder of its cancer and HIV/AIDS research departments.
Haseltine said researchers had developed a promising treatment for coronavirus after the SARS outbreak killed nearly 800 people in 2003.
“From my perspective, it’s a tragedy that never needed to happen,” he said. “Many of us were very clear in warning, this will come back. We had it as early as 2004, 2005, a whole set of chemical compounds that would be very likely to treat not only the SARS virus but all coronaviruses. We stopped the development of those drugs. My fervent hope is that we will not stop it now.”
“Why did we stop?” he added. “Because there was not an economic model that pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies could use. Well, that is a perfect time for the government to step in and provide the incentives necessary.”
Haseltine himself worked on those drugs that were intended for use against bioterrorist attacks, but he said government officials and pharmaceutical executives had ignored researchers’ warnings and halted their development.
“We did that, develop drugs against bioterrorist weapons,” he said. “I helped to develop one of those drugs, so I know those mechanisms exist. We just didn’t use them to protect ourselves. What I and many public health officials said will be a next epidemic. Let’s hope we don’t stop the development of these drugs prematurely so we have them for the next, and the next and the next wave of epidemics that are surely coming over the next 20 years.”
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