Under steady pressure to accelerate development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 and treatments for COVID-19 as the global death toll reached 3,085 people on the afternoon of March 2, biopharma companies continued to detail progress, including in updates at a White House meeting between pharmaceutical executives and administration officials, including President Donald Trump.
"We're working very hard to expedite the longer process of developing a vaccine. We're also moving with maximum speed so we can help people recover as quickly as possible," President Trump said Monday. "It's likely that therapies will be available before a vaccine is ready and we'll seek to bring all effective treatments to market as soon as possible," he said.
"The coronavirus shows the importance of bringing manufacturing back to America, so we are producing, at home, the medicines and equipment and everything else that we need to protect the public's health," he said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the White House is working with industry leaders on three key challenges: "How do we speed vaccines? How do we speed therapeutics? And what are the supply chain challenges we may be facing with respect to pharmaceutical products here in the United States?" In particular, he said, the president would be asking, "How can we challenge some of those normal pharma timelines that can be a little slow and bureaucratic?"
Glaxosmithkline plc CEO Emma Walmsley said that her company would focus on making its pandemic adjuvant technology available to any company with a "highly promising vaccine, because this new technology could either bring more efficacy or, indeed, allow them to be antigen-sparing, which means that we could protect more people."
GSK is already collaborating with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) initiative, the World Health Organization and the University of Queensland to deploy the technology as part of a rapid-response effort to develop and test vaccines in as little as 16 weeks. On Monday, Emeryville, Calif.-based Dynavax Technologies Corp. joined that effort, providing its own technical expertise and the company’s Toll-like receptor 9 agonist adjuvant, CpG 1018, to support development of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
First developed to provide an increased vaccine immune response, CpG 1018 is the adjuvant used in Heplisav-B, the company's adult hepatitis B vaccine. On news that the technology might have further utility against SARS-CoV-2, company shares (NASDAQ:DVAX) rose 14% to $4.50 on Monday.
Shares of Wakefield, Mass.-based Innovation Pharmaceuticals Corp. (OTCQB:IPIX), formerly known as Cellceutix Corp., also climbed Monday, rising 22.7% to 13.5 cents after it sought to outline the scientific rationale for developing its antimicrobial peptide mimetic, brilacidin, as a potential COVID-19 treatment and possible vaccine.
The company recently said it would ship brilacidin to a U.S.-based regional biocontainment lab this week to evaluate its potential antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties in the context of viral infections, including inhibition of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. It's anticipating those tests might be completed within several weeks’ time. At the same time, the company has submitted a preliminary summary of brilacidin's potential as a novel coronavirus treatment to the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
Brilacidin, which completed a phase I trial in healthy volunteers in February as part of the company's inflammatory bowel disease program, is headed for a planned phase II test in ulcerative colitis. But two recent review articles on coronaviruses, the company said Monday, suggest immunomodulators, like brilacidin, might be therapeutic options, potentially acting synergistically when combined with other antivirals.
Mateon Therapeutics Inc., an Agoura Hills, Calif.-based company that last year merged with Oncotelic Inc., also provided an update its COVID-19 program Monday. Its team has made "significant progress" in deploying its clinical assets against the COVID-19 virus and realigning them against rare tropical diseases to take advantage of the FDA tropical disease priority review vouchers (RPVs) around those diseases. A new Rapid Response division at the company will be dedicated to the development of rapid responses to the current COVID-19 virus outbreak, as well as future virus outbreaks, it said.
The new division has already identified initial antiviral candidates, Mateon said, and plans to develop a rapid response program for therapeutics not just for the current COVID-19 virus, but for other future viruses. Members of that team are also evaluating the potential of the company's AI Vision technology for potential use in monitoring patients infected with the current COVID-19 virus or future viruses.
Finally, Fargo, N.D.-based Immunoprecise Antibodies Ltd., through its subsidiary, Talem Therapeutics, and the New York-based company Evqlv Inc., announced a new collaboration aimed at accelerating the global effort to develop lead therapeutic and vaccine candidates against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The companies have teamed up with Evqlv, an artificial intelligence company focused on accelerating the discovery and optimization of antibody therapies, to augment and accelerate Talem’s coronavirus discovery program.
As part of the collaboration, Evqlv will perform in silico antibody design and discovery to generate new antibody sequences leveraging lead candidate data from Immunoprecise, as well as previously published sequences, the company said.