Most drugs don’t work, but a vaccine looks promising.

With one notable exception, the war isn’t going so well on the pharmaceutical front:

Although scientists and stock markets have celebrated the approval for emergency use of remdesivir to treat COVID-19, a cure for the disease that has killed more than 312,000 people remains a long way off — and might never arrive.

Hundreds of drugs are being studied around the world, but “I don’t see a lot of home runs right now,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of infectious diseases at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. “I see a lot of strikeouts.”

Antivirals, anti-inflammatory drugs and prepackaged plasma: A look at the therapies being developed to combat the new coronavirus, OregonLive, 18 May 2020.

The best study we have to date on remdesivir shows that it is ineffective. That’s better than the Trump-touted combo of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine which actively kill people and have no benefit against COVID-19. (“What have you got to lose?” asked Trump. “Your life,” responded a chorus of medical scientists.)

In fact our best treatment option so far, convalescent plasma, is largely unproven. It’s been found safe in the most recent study, but its effectiveness is largely anecdotal. Sure, there are a lot of recovery cases where it was used, but it wasn’t the only thing used and it’s difficult to determine if convalescent plasma was the thing that made the difference. Maybe a lot of these folks would have recovered anyway.

Worse, the convalescent plasma antibodies are time limited:

Donated antibodies — and any immunity they might provide — don’t last forever, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The body destroys aging antibodies as part of its routine maintenance, he said. In general, half of donated antibodies are eliminated in about three weeks.

We’ve had a little success with monoclonal antibodies, and since these antibodies can be lab-produced it should scale better. We’re still months away from a clinical trial, however.

On the brighter side, a vaccine from Moderna has successfully completed its first human trial. Test subjects’ blood samples were loaded with antibodies that “either equaled or exceeded the levels…found in patents who had recovered from the virus.” A phase 2 trial of the vaccine will begin shortly, and phase 3 trial with several thousand folks will begin in July.

Assuming all goes well, the earliest we’d get a vaccine to the general public is next year.