The number of biopharmas and nonprofits pitching in to find a treatment for COVID-19 continues to grow. In the past few weeks, that number has more than doubled and it shows no signing of slowing.
A new addition to BioWorld’s products in development list includes Quebec City’s Medicago Inc., which said it has produced a virus-like particle of the coronavirus only 20 days after obtaining the SARS-CoV-2 gene. Particle production is the first step in developing a vaccine for COVID-19, and the company said plans are being made for preclinical testing for its safety and efficacy, which Medicago would like to begin this July or August.
Privately held Medicago is also using its platform to develop antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in collaboration with the Laval University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre’s Gary Kobinger, who helped develop an Ebola vaccine and treatment. The research is partially funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. In 2009, Medicago produced a research-grade vaccine candidate against H1N1 in 19 days, and in 2012 it manufactured 10 million doses of monovalent influenza vaccine within one month for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In 2015, Medicago produced an anti-Ebola monoclonal antibody cocktail for the HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The company has plant-based technology for developing protein-based therapeutics and does not use animal products. The particles mimic a virus’ shape and dimensions, allowing the body to recognize them and create a non-infectious immune response.
Tiziana Life Sciences plc started the week off big after announcing it is developing TZLS-501, a monoclonal antibody (MAb) targeting interleukin-6 receptor (IL-6R) to treat patients infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Shares of Tiziana stock (NASDAQ:TLSA) shot up $1.90, or 93%, to close at $3.95 on March 11, with the company pricing an offering of American depositary shares to raise about $10 million. The stock settled back down 36.5% from the open to close Friday at $3.34 per share.
Clinical studies conducted by doctors in China, the company noted, suggest that anti-IL-6R MAbs may be used to treat COVID-19 patients who have lung damage and elevated IL-6 levels. Tiziana’s anti-IL-6R MAb binds the membrane-bound and soluble forms of IL-6R, depleting IL-6 levels in the blood. Excessive IL-6 is believed to drive chronic inflammation and is thought to be associated with the severe lung damage observed with COVID-19 infections.
Emergent Biosolutions Inc.’s stock (NYSE:EBS) rocketed 22.1% upward on March 13, closing at $68.76 per share. The Gaithersburg, Md., company said it has begun developing two candidates for preventing and treating COVID-19. Those product candidates are being developed on Emergent’s hyperimmune platform, involving polyclonal antibody therapeutics derived from plasma leveraging immune response in humans or animals and can, the company said, provide immediate protection from infection. COVID-HIG, manufactured from human plasma with antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, will be developed to treat severe hospitalized patients and to protect at-risk individuals. COVID-EIG, manufactured from plasma of immunized horses with antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, will be developed to treat severe hospitalized patients.
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos. and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center agreed on Friday to develop a preventive COVID-19 vaccine candidate and already have begun preclinical testing of multiple vaccine prospects. By the end of March, the partners said they want to identify a COVID-19 vaccine candidate for clinical trials, which they would like to launch this year. Janssen plans to employ the same platform it is using to develop its investigational Ebola, Zika, respiratory syncytial virus and HIV vaccines. The two entities have a past: Research and collaboration on Zika and HIV vaccine preclinical work candidates was done at the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
On March 13, Enanta Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Watertown, Mass., said it began a program to find direct-acting antiviral candidates to treat COVID-19 patients by testing compounds from its antiviral compound library for potential activity against the virus. It also began a drug discovery program using its experience in direct-acting antiviral mechanisms to find new candidates to treat COVID-19.
Already in clinical testing against COVID-19 is remdesivir, from Gilead Sciences Inc., a prodrug targeting the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. That program got strong word of mouth from analysts at SVB Leerink, who noted that its key opinion leaders felt remdesivir had good chances of being effective and rapidly scaled but doubt if it could be available in the next year and a half.