COVID-19 and Beyond: Year in Pharma 2021

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral treatments dominated headlines in 2021. But in addition to these breakthroughs, pharmaceutical and biotech companies continued to work on new technologies to treat other diseases. A cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society, highlights the year in pharma for COVID-19 and beyond.

Two years into the pandemic, the drug industry has affirmed its strength in tackling public health crises, writes Associate Editor Ryan Cross. COVID-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech and were rolled out across the U.S. The success of the latter two vaccines, which are based on messenger RNA (mRNA), spurred excitement and investment in other mRNA technologies, such as CRISPR gene-editing systems and protein replacement therapies. Although vaccines remain the first line of defense against SARS-CoV-2, oral antivirals could be a powerful tool to end the pandemic, researchers say. Two of the most promising antiviral pills, Merck’s molnupiravir and Pfizer’s PF-0732133, decreased hospitalization and death rates in clinical trials of unvaccinated people who had risk factors for severe COVID-19.

In other developments this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a controversial drug, Biogen’s Aduhelm, for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Although the antibody medication reduced amyloid-β plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients by more than half in two clinical trials, it slowed cognitive decline by a modest amount in only one of the trials. The controversy and negative press have contributed to little demand for Aduhelm from patients, neurologists report. Other therapies that showed promise in 2021 include psychedelic drugs for mental illness, stem cell therapies for diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, and base-editing treatments for sickle cell disease.

The article, “Another Year of Pharma,” is freely available here.