Although there is significant optimism surrounding the coronavirus vaccine rollout, recent developments show that 21 states are actually experiencing an increase in infections, generating concern among researchers and government leaders.

To that end, Pfizer announced Tuesday it has commenced an early stage clinical trial of an experimental oral antiviral drug for the coronavirus.

The New York-based pharmaceutical company said the phase one trial of the drug, which is named PF-07321332, is currently being conducted in the United States. It is part of a class of medicines called protease inhibitors, which function by blocking an enzyme that the virus needs to replicate in human cells.

Protease inhibitors already are used to treat other viral pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C.

“Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires both prevention via vaccine and targeted treatment for those who contract the virus,” Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, said in a press release. “Given the way that SARS-CoV-2 is mutating and the continued global impact of COVID-19, it appears likely that it will be critical to have access to therapeutic options both now and beyond the pandemic.”

Pfizer Churning Out Covid Drugs

The pharma company is also working on an intravenously administered protease inhibitor known as PF-07304814 that is currently in a phase 1b clinical trial in patients hospitalized with the coronavirus infection.

“Together, the two (oral and intravenous candidates) have the potential to create an end-to-end treatment paradigm that complements vaccination in cases where disease still occurs,” Pfizer’s Chief Medical Officer Mikael Dolsten said in a statement.

While Pfizer already has an authorized vaccine in the U.S. with German drugmaker BioNTech, health pundits suggest that a variety of drugs and vaccines may be needed to end the pandemic, which has infected more than 29.8 million Americans and killed at least 542,991 in a little over a year, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 Biotech index rose as much as 25% last year after falling as low as 8% during the apex of last year’s sell-offs. Now, downward pressure is helping leveraged inverse funds like the Direxion Daily S&P Biotech Bear 3X Shares (LABD).

But since Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir is currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for the treatment of the coronavirus, Pfizer’s comments that preclinical studies have illustrated that its oral drug demonstrates ‘potent’ antiviral activity against the virus could be potentially good for society and biotech ETFs alike.

Pfizer said it will offer additional information on the drug at the Spring American Chemical Society meeting on April 6.

ETF investors looking to invest in U.S. biotech can give the VanEck Vectors® Biotech ETF (BBH), iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB), or the Principal Healthcare Innovators Index ETF (BTEC) a look.

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