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The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 triggering the COVID-19 pandemic ranks as arguably the greatest medical emergency of the last century. COVID-19 has highlighted health disparities both within and between countries and will leave a lasting impact on global society. Nonetheless, substantial investment in life sciences over recent decades has facilitated a rapid scientific response with innovations in viral characterization, testing, and sequencing. Perhaps most remarkably, this permitted the development of highly effective vaccines, which are being distributed globally at unprecedented speed. In contrast, drug treatments for the established disease have delivered limited benefits so far. Innovative and rapid approaches in the design and execution of large-scale clinical trials and repurposing of existing drugs have saved many lives; however, many more remain at risk. In this review we describe challenges and unmet needs, discuss existing therapeutics, and address future opportunities. Consideration is given to factors that have hindered drug development in order to support planning for the next pandemic challenge and to allow rapid and cost-effective development of new therapeutics with equitable delivery.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Publication Date





Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland School of Clinical Medicine, Herson, QLD 4006, Australia.


Humans, Pandemics, Drug Development, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 Vaccines