Latest industry developments against COVID-19

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Feder Kozyr)
(Image: Getty/Feder Kozyr)

Related tags Johnson & johnson Roche Regeneron Sanofi Coronavirus

In the face of the threat from the novel coronavirus, industry momentum is gathering to produce a solution.

For an industry sometimes criticized as being slow to act, there has been a slew of initiatives announced recently to combat the novel coronavirus, including some treatments that could reach patients in a matter of months, not years.

As we come to the end of the March and on the news that Johnson & Johnson is pushing forward its lead vaccine candidate, BioPharma-Reporter outlines four promising developments to be revealed this month.

Johnson & Johnson selects lead candidate

The news was announced today that J&J had chosen the lead candidate it would progress to human clinical studies, though it has held an additional two vaccine candidates in reserve should it not prove to be a success.

However, the confidence the company has in the vaccine candidate seems to be underpinned by the decision to begin manufacturing the vaccine at risk. Further than this, J&J will scale up manufacturing so that it can deliver one billion doses globally.

Alongside this announcement was the financial commitment that the company and the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) would make of $1bn (€906m) to push forward vaccine research, development, and clinical testing.

Roche readies Actemra for use

First, Roche announced that its monoclonal antibody, Actemra (tocilizumab), would enter a Phase III study early next month​.

The company then followed the news up by outlining that it was urgently working to expand manufacturing capacity and to maximize production of the therapy.

Actemra is already approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, with researchers believing the drug’s ability to combat an overactive inflammatory response may be helpful in treating those with coronavirus infection.

Sanofi and Regeneron accelerate drug into late phase trial

Similar to Roche’s development, the two companies have begun recruiting for a Phase II/III trial evaluating the potential for Kevzara (sarilumab) to be used as a treatment for COVID-19.

Like Actemra, Kevzara inhibits the interleukin-6 (IL-6) pathway by binding and blocking the receptor, dampening a person’s overactive immune action.

This approach saw enough success in China that the country added the treatment to its guidelines in combatting the pandemic.

Gates Foundation secures biggest names in industry for partnership

As well as the pharma industry moving quickly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also acted rapidly to utilize its own resources against the pandemic. First, it set up the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator​, with a financial backing of $125m behind it.

Two weeks later, the Gates Foundation secured the signatures of 15 companies across the industry, including many of its largest companies, to pool their resources to develop vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.

In a notable aspect of the deal, the foundation managed to encourage the notoriously IP-wary industry to share their proprietary libraries of molecular compounds to potentially determine whether they may be useful in aiding the effort against the virus.

The Gates Foundation hopes that any compounds showing potential could move to in vitro ​trials within two months.

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