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Ex-GSK CEO Andrew Witty to join WHO COVID-19 vaccine efforts

While UK ministers are expected to announce a three-week extension to the current coronavirus lockdown

Sir Andrew Witty

Ex-GlaxoSmithKline chief executive officer Sir Andrew Witty, who now serves as president of UnitedHealth Group and CEO of Optum, is temporarily suspending these roles to co-lead the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 vaccine programme.

Witty is set to take a leave of absence from UnitedHealth Group and Optum while leading the WHO programme and is set to return by the end of the year.

He will partner with the WHO and other stakeholders to lead the accelerated development of a COVID-19 vaccine, with his appointment at the organisation effective on 20 April.

Under Witty’s leadership, GSK expanded its presence in vaccine development, with the former CEO working to improve expanded access to essential vaccines.

“I am deeply honoured to help lead this mission to seek a COVID-19 vaccine and am confident the people of Optum will remain relentless in their work to help their customers, communities and each other each day,” Witty said in a statement today.

While Witty takes up the helm at the WHO, UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann will lead Optum in his absence.

“Andrew brings the perfect combination of deep global health expertise, innovation and operating skills and, above all, a passion for, and considerable success in, developing vaccines to drive this critical effort,” said Wichmann.

“The pride we take in Andrew’s willingness to serve during this global health crisis is exceeded only by our confidence in his ability to support the global vaccine development effort as quickly and effectively as possible,” he added.

During a WHO emergency press conference on the COVID-19 disease outbreak held on 15 April, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “three vaccines have already started clinical trials” and “more than 70 others are in development”.

“We're working with partners to accelerate the development, production and distribution of vaccines,” he added.

Moderna has already launched a phase 1 trial of its mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, with the company’s chairman Noubar Afeyan recently saying that the phase 2 human trials of the candidate could begin in Spring if all goes according to plan.

As the development of a successful vaccine will likely take at least a year, researchers are also looking to identify effective therapeutics for COVID-19.

That includes Gliead’s experimental antiviral remdesivir, which is currently being tested in COVID-19 patients in a number of trials across the world.

In China, however, a second study testing the drug in mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients has been halted this week, due to the epidemic being ‘controlled well at present (and) no eligible patients can be recruited’, according to updates posted on the clinicaltrials.gov database.

Although the outbreak of the novel coronavirus initially began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province in China, the country has seen a steep decline in new cases and deaths after strict lockdown measures were introduced earlier this year.

Meanwhile in the UK, ministers are expected to announce a three-week extension to the current coronavirus lockdown as the country has yet to hit its peak of cases.

"We can see that we're reaching a peak, that is good news, but we can see that the numbers are not yet coming down, therefore we can't make a change,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast.

Article by
PMGroup

16th April 2020

From: Research

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