Courtesy of a $50 million series A, Adagio Therapeutics Inc. will join a raft of other companies attempting to end the COVID-19 pandemic with antibodies.

Adagio’s CEO and co-founder, Tillman Gerngross, told BioWorld, that the new company is after monoclonal antibodies to neutralize SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1 and two circulating bat coronaviruses that virologists monitor. Once that job is done, he added, there will likely be more to deal with because there have been three coronavirus pandemics since 2000.

Tillman Gerngross, CEO and co-founder, Adagio

“If we’re successful, we’ve solved our current problem but in the future we will also already have something to treat a pandemic early,” Gerngross said. “I’m frustrated. If someone had done this work in 2003, the world would be in a very different place.”

Adagio is a spinout of Adimab LLC, where Gerngross is also CEO and a co-founder. As the new work started taking shape, Gerngross decided it had potent molecules it felt should be developed so he decided he “wanted this in the hands of sophisticated developers.” Gerngross held an investor call on June 11 seeking $40 million to capitalize the new company. Within 24 hours, he had raised more than expected.

“I’d never done that before,” he said, sounding slightly surprised weeks later.

The financing was led by Polaris Partners and Mithril Capital, plus investments by Fidelity Management & Research Co. LLC, Orbimed, M28 Capital, GV and MRL Ventures Fund.

The funding should put the broadly neutralizing antibody candidates through IND studies and into early clinical development. Gerngross said he is not looking for government funding, which he said would lengthen and unnecessarily complicate the development cycle.

To reduce possibility of viral escape, Adagio’s antibodies bind to a highly conserved epitope on the spike protein of multiple coronaviruses.

Gerngross said those antibodies, which would be injected twice annually, are a credible alternative to a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that may not be highly effective or may have limited durability.

“This part of viral infection doesn’t lend itself well to vaccine development,” he said. “If you get a vaccine that is 60% to 70% effective and the protection is for three months, four shots a year is not an awesome solution.”

Other obstructions that Gerngross sees as COVID-19 vaccine work progresses include compliance issues and resistance by anti-vaxxers.

“It’ll be really messy,” he said.

His vision is for engineering antibodies getting into the range of protection for up to six months with 90% effectiveness.

“If that is sustainable for half a year, it could be an outpatient procedure,” he added. “We think that’s a more credible path.”

Gerngross said he expects the first Adagio IND will be filed by year-end, with the possibility of dosing the first patient before the end of December or perhaps in early 2021.

There are other companies developing antibody therapeutics for the virus. Entering phase III is Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s monoclonal antibodies REGN-10933 plus REGN-10987. There is also Eli Lilly and Co., which in June dosed its first patients in a phase I test of LY-CoV555, a neutralizing IgG1 monoclonal antibody directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. It is the first to emerge from Lilly's collaboration with Abcellera Biologics Inc., a deal signed in early March. Abcellera and Lilly committed to equally share initial development costs toward a product, after which Lilly will be responsible for all further development, manufacturing and distribution work and costs.

Privately held Idbiologics Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., just published a study in Nature showing its monoclonal antibodies completely neutralized SARS-CoV-2. In the report, a panel of monoclonal antibodies targeting the spike glycoprotein isolated from the B cells of recovered COVID-19 patients exhibited neutralizing activity against the wild-type or native SARS-CoV-2. The most potent, according to the study, fully block the binding of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the hACE2 receptor. The company said it plans to begin a phase I trial of IDB-003 in the third quarter of 2020.

Other COVID-19 antibody efforts include Roche Holding AG, Vir Biotechnology Inc., Celltrion Inc. and academic institutions such as the University of Toronto.

Gerngross said that potential multiple antibody approvals, specifically citing Lilly and Regeneron, will provide pricing pressure that will eventually benefit patients.

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