In the epic battle against COVID-19, biotech and pharmaceutical companies believe antibodies may hold the key for successful treatment. Antibodies develop in the blood when the body builds an immunity to a virus.
By targeting specific antibodies, companies like Regeneron, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly believe they can develop effective treatment protocols and possibly even prevent infection of COVID-19.
Back in mid-March, just weeks after the threat of COVID-19 became apparent to Americans, Regeneron announced it had identified hundreds of virus-neutralizing antibodies and planned to develop a novel multi-antibody cocktail to prevent and treat the coronavirus.
Since then, Regeneron researchers selected the top two antibodies, according to a company press release, “based on potency and binding ability to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, as well as other desirable qualities.” Regeneron aims to combine multiple antibodies in order to target different parts of the virus and potentially protect against variations of the virus.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. anticipates moving to human testing in June and plans to release this experimental antibody treatment for COVID-19 as early as this fall.
AstraZeneca has partnered with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Vanderbilt University Medical Center to obtain genetic sequences for antibodies believed to combat SARS-CoV-2.
With the help of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, AstraZeneca will perform preclinical safety and efficacy assessments on the most promising antibodies.
As Mark Esser, Vice President of AstraZeneca, explained, “We have a long history of, and deep expertise in discovering and developing antibody-based treatments for a range of diseases…. Harnessing these capabilities, our scientists are working tirelessly and collaboratively hoping we can contribute to putting an end to this crisis as fast as we can.”
Thanks to its past work with antibodies, AstraZeneca already has proprietary technology to capture and screen antibodies from millions of cells. It’s also utilizing a sophisticated method to produce large numbers of monoclonal antibodies- which contain a purified or engineered antibody- for screening and further development.
If all goes as planned, AstraZeneca will carry out a clinical evaluation of its antibody drug within the next three to five months.
Eli Lilly & Co
Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co is taking multiple approaches to develop therapeutic antibodies meant to prevent and treat COVID-19.
First, Lilly announced its partnership with Vancouver-based biotech company AbCellera, which received $175 in funding from the Canadian federal government. Lilly and AbCellera plan to begin clinical trials for their antibody drug in July 2020.
Unlike convalescent plasma antibody therapy that uses antibodies from recovered patients to treat sick patients, monoclonal antibody drugs use a purified or engineered antibody designed to recognize a specific virus antigen and trigger an immune response against a foreign pathogen.
Eli Lilly also signed an agreement in early May with China-based biopharmaceutical firm Junshi Biosciences to jointly develop COVID-19 therapeutic antibodies. Junshi has already engineered several neutralizing antibodies, with a lead candidate known as JS016. Lilly and Junshi expect JS016 to enter clinical testing later this summer. This monoclonal antibody is designed to prevent the binding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to host cells.
As Junshi CEO Ning Li said, “Entering into this agreement with Lilly empowers us to accelerate the clinical development of Jushi SARS-CoV-2 antibodies globally.”