Running ahead of Pandemics: Achieving In-Advance Antiviral Drugs

7 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2020

See all articles by Jassi Pannu

Jassi Pannu

Stanford University - School of Medicine

Date Written: March 31, 2020


Three months into the COVID-19 outbreak caused by a novel strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the world is still in search of an effective therapeutic drug. Experimental drugs developed for other infections, such as Gilead’s remdesivir, have been repurposed with unclear success. A recent small study suggests that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin used in combination may speed up recovery.2 However, if any of these repurposed drugs prove effective, it will be a matter of good fortune, not good preparedness. We must shift from the hope of just-in-time drugs toward the promise of in-advance therapeutics by developing broad-spectrum drugs.

These drugs, however, confront a market failure: what firm will invest millions developing a drug for a nonexistent pandemic market? To overcome this confrontation, public policy can introduce adequate incentives for these investments to occur. I propose adopting innovation prizes with awards large enough to justify investments in broad-spectrum antiviral drugs developed up to phase III clinical trials in the FDA drug approval process. I also emphasize the importance of starting this effort with pathogen families of known pandemic potential, such as respiratory viruses.

Keywords: healthcare, coronavirus, coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, public health, economics, quarantine, economy, economic crisis

JEL Classification: H51, H75, I00, I13, I18, L65, O00, L50, L51

Suggested Citation

Pannu, Jassi, Running ahead of Pandemics: Achieving In-Advance Antiviral Drugs (March 31, 2020). Special Edition Policy Brief, Available at SSRN: or

Jassi Pannu (Contact Author)

Stanford University - School of Medicine ( email )

291 Campus Drive
Li Ka Shing Building
Stanford, CA 94305-5101
United States

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