HONG KONG – Last week was a busy one for Harbour Biomed Therapeutics Ltd., seeing the company sign a COVID-19 research collaboration with several Dutch institutions as well as lodge an application to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Harbour Biomed and its partners, Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center, have inked a new research collaboration with Viroclinics Biosciences BV and Kiadis Pharma BV that will focus on the development of a combined monoclonal antibody and natural killer (NK) cell therapy for COVID-19. The new collaboration expands on Harbour Biomed’s ongoing work in using MAbs against SARS-CoV-2, alongside Kiadis’ K-NK cell therapy platform.

“Harbour Biomed will contribute the MAbs, which is our area of expertise. Kiadis Pharma will contribute the NK cells from their area of expertise and experience. The other partners will bring their expertise in in vitro and in vivo testing,” Jingsong Wang, Harbour Biomed’s founder, chairman and CEO told BioWorld.

COVID-19 has been shown to break down NK cell immunity, leaving patients with severe cases lacking functional NK cells, Harbour Biomed said. Its fully human, non-blocking antibody 49F1, used in the collaboration, targets a conserved region of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. It has already demonstrated strong binding affinity to both SARS-CoV-2 and a second coronavirus SARS-CoV in vitro.

The research collaboration will look at the elimination of SARS-CoV-2 virus and virally infected cells by Kiadis’ NK cells, as well as synergies between MAbs and NK cells.

“NK cells are the critical component of our immune system’s innate response to any infection,” said Wang. “It has been observed that the NK cells are depleted in patients with COVID-19. So we are taking a novel approach by combining the NK cells with the adaptive immune response, i.e. the MAb, to give the overall immune system a boost and build a synergistic response to clear the virus from the body,” he said.

NK cells are the human immune system’s first line of defense against tumor cells and infectious disease. And Kiadis has been productive in demonstrating their activity against both cytomegalovirus and BK virus as well as against CNS and pulmonary fungal and bacterial agents in its clinical trials.

As the cells can be manufactured on a large scale and frozen, they may also be able to be made available to patients quickly around the world.

“While our initial focus has been targeted towards blood cancers, we are now expanding our research into infectious diseases and have established relationships with antiviral and COVID-19 academic and drug development experts, to develop our K-NK cell therapeutics for the treatment of COVID-19,” said Robert Friesen, chief scientific officer at Kiadis.

Kiadis has already applied for U.S. government grants put in place to support the global fight against COVID-19.

Given the early nature of Harbour Biomed’s collaboration with its partners, Wang declined to disclose financial details, adding that it was “too early to say” about plans for trials. But the joint work puts the company in a particularly good position for its newly filed application to list in Hong Kong, for which Morgan Stanley, BofA Securities, and Citic Securities will act as joint bookrunners. That offering will build on a July financing in which the company raised $102.8 million to advance its late-stage products in a series C financing round.