TWO companies with strong Cork connections are among the pharmaceutical giants racing to find a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Global corporations Novartis and Pfizer, which employ around 4,000 people in Ireland and have Cork bases, have joined the worldwide war on the pandemic.
Novartis has pledged to donate 130 million hydroxychloroquine tablets free to fight Covid-19 - the drug is used to combat malaria and there are hopes it will also hold the key to fighting coronavirus.
Preliminary trials are being held using the drug and the move by Novartis, alongside other pharmaceutical companies, was welcomed by the world of medical science The 130 million tablets will be supplied by the end of May and the company said it will explore "further scaling of capacity to increase supply".
In a statement announcing the move, Novartis Global Head of Strategy, Stephen Moran, said the company is also providing $20million grants to support public health initiatives designed to help communities manage the challenges posed by Covid-19.
There are no vaccines or treatments approved for the disease, but there is currently a 1,500-person trial, led by the University of Minnesota in the U.S, to see whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent or reduce the severity of COVID-19. US President Donald Trump has spoken of his optimism that the drug will be the breakthrough the world is seeking.
Two other trials are studying blood pressure drug losartan as a possible treatment, news agency Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, Pfizer, which last year marked 50 years in Cork and employs 3,700 people in Ireland, has also joined the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.
It has reportedly teamed up with BioNTech, a German firm which has announced it will start clinical trials of its experimental vaccine next month.
However, Irishman Dr Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation's top emergency expert, yesterday warned that a working vaccine was at least a year away.
In an interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, he said: "Once we've suppressed the transmission, we have to go after the virus. We have to take the fight to the virus.
"We have to make sure the vaccine is absolutely safe... we are talking at least a year. The vaccines will come, but we need to get out and do what we need to do now."