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GSK, partner Vir join race to find COVID-19 antibody treatment

Mon, 31st Aug 2020 13:00

Aug 31 (Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline and partner Vir
Biotechnology have started testing their experimental
antibody on early-stage COVID-19 patients, entering the race to
find a winner in a promising class of antiviral drugs to combat
the pandemic.

The British drugmaker said on Monday the long-acting single
injection will be tested on recently diagnosed high-risk cases
for its ability to prevent hospitalisation, typically a life
threatening disease stage.

GSK, which in April moved to invest $250 million in Vir and
agreed to collaborate on the antibody, is behind some peers in
developing the class.

Regeneron, which is working on antibody
manufacturing with Roche, expects initial data from
ongoing trials of its COVID-19 two-antibody combination in
September.

Eli Lilly, working with biotech firm AbCellera,
early this month started testing whether their antibody can
prevent the infections in nursing homes. A separate trial
testing the compound on recently diagnosed COVID patients may
yield initial data in September or shortly after.

"We're coming into the clinic a little bit later and part of
that is because we spent some time selecting what we believe
will be a best-in-class antibody," Vir Chief Executive George
Scangos told Reuters.

The antibody is designed to not only block the virus from
invading cells but also to recruit immune cells to kill already
infected cells, which would otherwise replicate the virus.

It also has been altered to stay effective for several
months on a single shot and to cling to a part of the virus's
outer spike protein that has shown no tendency to mutate.

After testing the drug on an initial 20 U.S. participants
over two weeks for safety, the trial will expand to 1,300
patients globally.

GSK said initial results could be available by the end of
the year, complete results during the first quarter of 2021, and
early access to patients could be on the cards before June.

GSK's more prominent role so far in combating the pandemic
has been in providing adjuvants, efficacy boosters that play a
vital role in many vaccines.

The global effort to develop a vaccine against the virus,
which has so far claimed more than 800,000 lives globally, has
seen recent launches of late-stage trials, but work on
treatments has also gone into overdrive.

While one approach has been to quell a dangerous
overreaction of the immune system, known as cytokine storm,
another has been to block the virus from invading cells with
antibodies.

Antibodies, part of the body's adaptive immune system, are
normally made by white blood cells in response to a foreign
substance in the body.

But pharma companies, also including AstraZeneca and
Molecular Partners, are working on manufactured
monoclonal antibodies, made in bioreactors from living cells,
for a more targeted attack on the virus.

Using plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, which
contains a range of antibodies, is a similar approach but it may
be fraught with more complex logistics and less consistent
quality than manufactured antibodies.

In future studies, GSK and Vir plan to run more trials on
their antibody's ability to prevent the infection and treat
patients that are already in hospital care. Later this year,
they plan to start a trial of a second antibody from the
collaboration.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; editing by David Evans)

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