Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said therapeutic drugs to treat the coronavirus could reduce the death rate substantially this year but a vaccine will be crucial to bringing back a sense of normalcy to society.
"You can see the therapeutic benefit faster than the protective benefit," Gates said in an interview that aired Tuesday on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "So I think there's a good chance we'll have substantial death-rate reduction by the end of the year with the combination of those new tools."
The Microsoft co-founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said remdesivir was one of the leading treatments in the therapeutic research. Remdesivir is an antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences that has shown to have reduced the risk of death for severely sick Covid-19 patients by 62% compared with standard care alone.
Gates said there are two other antivirals that scientists are looking into, which can be administered orally instead of being injected with an IV like the remdesivir treatment.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced plans in February to donate $100 million to vaccine research and treatment efforts for the coronavirus as part of the World Health Organization's request for $675 million in contributions to fight the spread of the virus. In June, the foundation pledged an additional $1.6 billion to the Gavi vaccine alliance, an organization focused on efforts to immunize children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Also I'd say monoclonal antibodies are probably the most promising class. ...You have people like Regeneron, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca doing some pretty strong work," Gates told Andrew Ross Sorkin in Monday's interview.
Even though these new therapeutics will significantly help coronavirus patients suffering from severe symptoms, he said it won't "drive us back to complete normalcy."
"Until you really block transmission, have long periods of time without anybody going in the hospital, the concern is going to be there," he said.
Several pharmaceutical companies have been testing their potential vaccines in clinical trials with some entering late-stage human trials in a race to win regulatory approval before the end of 2020.
U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech announced Monday that they just began their late-stage human trial. Earlier this month, they said one of their four vaccine candidates produced neutralizing antibodies, which researchers believe is necessary to build immunity to the virus, in all participants who received two of the 10 or 30 microgram doses.
Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech received $1.95 billion in funding from the U.S. government to produce and deliver 100 million doses of their vaccine if it proves safe and effective.
Moderna, another leading pharmaceutical company in the race to develop a vaccine, also announced Monday it received an additional $472 million in funding from the government. The company has previously received $483 million from the federal agency in April.
Gates said Tuesday that he is "enthused about all the vaccines that the U.S. has funded."
"We live every day with our vaccine experts talking to these companies because how we put the world's resources behind these isn't just driven by a normal sort of market thing. This is cooperation to figure out within a country and across countries where this vaccine should go," he said.
The billionaire also emphasized the importance of persuading the public to take the vaccine if and when it becomes available. He said health officials need to send clear messages that the FDA is "not cutting corners" and following its professional safety process.
"Well, it's critical that people don't think we're rushing," he said. Gates admitted that he is "worried" but not surprised that people are concerned about the efficacy and safety of the first coronavirus vaccine.
"Hopefully they'll look to the facts, understand the values of the people that they're thinking about and understand that we're in this together and we need to protect each other with masks and eventually probably with herd immunity with a vaccine," he said.
Correction: Summaries in an earlier version misstated when the interview was conducted. It was conducted Monday and aired Tuesday.