Ex-FDA chief warns ‘parts of our lives’ will stay shut down without a coronavirus drug by fall

The coronavirus will continue to disrupt daily life in the fall unless there is an effective drug to treat it, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Thursday. 

“If we don’t have it, this virus is going to come back in the fall and it’s going to continue to shut down parts of our lives,” Gottlieb said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“This is going to circulate in the background. The consumer is not going to bounce back. People are going to be afraid to go out and we’re going to continue to see people succumb to this virus,” he added. 

Gottlieb said the sense of “urgency” being applied to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine needs to be applied to developing a therapeutic. 

“We really need to figure that a vaccine might be two years away,” argued Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina

A drug, by contrast, can be developed “in the near term,” Gottlieb said. But he said it will require global regulators to change their approach, much like they have done toward COVID-19 vaccine development. 

He pointed to the National Institutes of Health’s work with biotech company Moderna. Together, NIH and Moderna have already begun Phase 1 human trials on a vaccine in the Seattle area. 

“They made a bet on a vaccine and they’re working to accelerate the development of that product,” Gottlieb said. “We really need to do the same thing with therapeutics. … We need to partner with the companies that have the most promising therapies and try to drive through development.” 

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which developed an effective treatment for Ebola, is among the companies working on a COVID-19 therapeutic

Gilead Sciences‘ remdesivir, which was tried as a treatment for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is also being studied for its effectiveness in treating COVID-19. 

Gottlieb’s comments Thursday came one day after White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said the first human trial of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 was “on track.” 

Public distribution was still projected in 12 to 18 months, said Fauci, who added a vaccine would be the “ultimate game changer.” 

In the meantime, an effective therapeutic for COVID-19 is necessary, Gottlieb said. 

“This virus isn’t going away. It’s going to continue to bounce around the world,” he said. “And it’s going to change our lives until we have a therapeutic that can vanquish it or really take the fear away from this virus spreading in the background.”