Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc., of San Diego, and Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University negotiated an exclusive worldwide license agreement to develop and commercialize new drug candidates targeting the muscarinic M1 receptor with the potential to treat a range of central nervous system disorders. The collaboration will focus on positive allosteric modulators of the M1 receptor. The agreement includes a lead compound currently in phase I as well as compounds currently in preclinical development and compounds generated in an ongoing discovery program. Vanderbilt will receive $10 million up front and is eligible for potential milestone payments of up to $515 million and tiered royalties.

Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings Inc., of San Diego, said new preclinical data on its self-replicating mRNA COVID-19 vaccine program, LUNAR-COV19, revealed evidence of an adaptive cellular (CD8+ cells) and balanced (Th1/Th2) immune response. The data were generated by investigators at the company's partner, the Duke-NUS Medical School at the National University of Singapore.

Sydney-based Beroni Group Ltd. said that, in collaboration with China's Tianjin University, it has discovered 24 types of nanobodies that can be used for the rapid detection and treatment of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The team is now prepared to conduct animal experiments and clinical trials, which are expected to yield results within the next 12 to 18 months, it said. The company has also been granted the approval by China’s Ministry of Commerce to export its SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM antibody detection kit to overseas countries.

Fortress Biotech Inc., of New York, said Oncogenuity Inc. , a new Fortress partner company, has entered an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with Columbia University to develop novel oligonucleotides for the treatment of genetically driven cancers. The company's platform produces oligomers that are capable of binding gene sequences 1,000 times more effectively than complementary native DNA, it said. Oncogenuity is also exploring the platform’s potential to treat coronaviruses.

Sorrento Therapeutics Inc., of San Diego, said it would work with Mount Sinai Health System on the development of Covi-Shield, an antibody cocktail to potentially treat COVID-19. The partners expect that each dose of the candidate, if approved, would deliver a combination of three antibodies, which together would recognize three unique regions of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Sorrento is completing all investigational new drug application filing requirements for the triple antibody combination therapy and expects to start phase I trials of the drug candidate in the third quarter of 2020.

Zyus Life Sciences Inc., of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a company collaborating with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-Intervac) at the University of Saskatchewan, said it will leverage its plant technology platform to develop and express a protein that VIDO-Intervac has identified as a potential antigen for a COVID-19 vaccine. The protein will be isolated by Zyus in its plant expression system and will provide insights into whether plants can produce antigens that are usable in a COVID-19 vaccine. Zyus said that, by midsummer, it expects to have extracted enough protein to determine its effectiveness in animal models of COVID-19.

Data from a triple-drug antiviral combination comprising interferon beta-1b, lopinavir-ritonavir and ribavirin, published in The Lancet, showed evidence that early treatment is safe and shortens duration of viral shedding compared to lopinavir-ritonavir alone (average seven days vs. 12 days) in patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 in a phase II trial. A total of 127 patients from six public hospitals in Hong Kong were randomized in the study, which tested a two-week course of antiviral therapy, started within seven days of patients showing COVID-19 symptoms. Secondary outcomes suggest that clinical improvement and length of hospital stay may be significantly shorter in people treated with the triple combination less than seven days after showing symptoms, compared to lopinavir-ritonavir alone. Researchers said results will need to be confirmed in larger phase III studies that also test interferon beta-1b alone or in combination with other drugs and involve patients with more severe illness.

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