WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about the development of COVID-19 therapeutics, as well as research and treatment for long-term effects for COVID-19 patients. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: I’d really like to thank all of the doctors for being here, and for their tireless service to our nation, for their information, for their hard work and study. And I’d like to just make this other comment that most of us here do understand that data takes time, good data takes time.
Over 5,100 Nevadans have already died from COVID, I don’t want to see that going up. And so, I have introduced bipartisan legislation to hopefully track a diverse set of COVID patients long-term, a longitudinal study, and report those findings on a regular basis.
So, Dr. Fauci, I really appreciated so much the conversations we’ve had in the past, [we’ve] talked about monoclonal antibodies, other antivirals. We know both of those helped, but like I said, people are still dying. So, is it an issue of patients not having access to some of these, and what can you maybe tell us about what’s in the pipeline for therapeutics for those who unfortunately may still contract the disease?
FAUCI: I had outlined — and I’ll briefly repeat it – in my opening statement, that we have therapeutics for people with early disease.
The difficulty logistically is getting people early enough to make it work. Monoclonal antibodies clearly work in the setting of getting people before they enter the hospital, and before they develop advanced symptoms. Every study that’s looked at monoclonal antibodies after a person has advanced disease in the hospital has shown no benefit.
We do have good drugs for advanced disease, particularly the state of the art of using dexamethasone with advanced individuals. We have a number of others under emergency use authorization, but getting to the point that I think you’re suggesting, Senator, is that the real endgame for this is to develop targeted antiviral drugs very similar to what we did so successfully with antiretrovirals for HIV, and for curative therapies for hepatitis C.
We are now investing a considerable amount of resources and doing that. We have a couple of candidates now that look good, that actually have been developed previously, that we’re putting into phase 1, 2, and 2a and 2b trials.
So, you’re absolutely correct, we need to do better on therapy, and the strategy for the future is the direct antiviral therapies that are similar to what we did with HIV. Thanks.
ROSEN: Well, I’d like to build on that then, because we hear about the long haulers or the long-term effects of COVID-19. We see people really suffering from this.
We know about 30 percent of all COVID patients really continue to suffer from some form of ill-defined symptoms. Prolonged fatigue — brain fog as some people are calling that – that may render folks unable to go to work. It puts them at risk for continued social isolation and other kinds of issues, it certainly decreases their immune system.
So, we have to be sure that we don’t deny benefits to these folks who have the long-haul symptoms. But what can you tell me, Dr. Fauci, about NIH, how you’re evaluating these troubling long-term health consequences, and are there treatments available? What’s in the pipeline there for those that are continuing to suffer? Some people’s sense of smell — I’ve heard rancid smell – now they get their smell back but now everything smells sour or rotten. What are you doing?
FAUCI: We’ve initiated a major program to the tune of $1.15 billion that we’re doing at the NIH, also in collaboration with the CDC, in following cohorts of individuals to determine the incidents, the prevalence, how long these symptoms last. We have some studies saying they go out up to eight months or longer. You asked a very relevant question, what about treatment of them. It is very difficult to devise a therapeutic regimen when you don’t know what the underlying mechanism of the pathogenic disease is, and that’s the real stumbling block here is why we are intensively studying the individuals, because although it is an absolutely real phenomenon, we don’t have any pathogenic mechanisms right now that we’re certain of that has a commonality among all of them. We will find that out, and when we do then we’ll be able to devise, hopefully, effective and appropriate therapies.
ROSEN: Thank you, I appreciate everything you’re doing. Madam Chair, I yield back.