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Biotechs Explore Cell Therapy for Covid-19 Antibodies

Coronavirus face mask

(Tumisu, Pixabay)

30 Mar. 2020. Two biotechnology companies are researching use of a non-viral gene therapy to deliver synthetic antibodies for treating Covid-19 infections. Generation Bio in Cambridge, Massachusetts is collaborating with Vir Biotechnology in San Francisco to assess the feasibility of the proposed technology.

One strategy for combating the expanding global Covid-19 pandemic is to find antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 infections, usually from donors who recovered from the disease. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued regulatory guidance for requesting emergency authorization to use convalescent plasma with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from recovered Covid-19 patients for other patients with severe cases of the disease.

Vir Biotechnology develops treatments for infectious diseases with a series of platforms, including synthetic antibodies that work like natural, but often rare, antibodies produced by people who recover form these conditions. The company’s antibodies are designed to neutralize pathogens or stimulate the immune system, in some cases both. Vir Biotech’s antibodies are now treating patients or being tested for Ebola in Democratic Republic of the Congo, hepatitis B, and influenza A. The company says it isolated the related SARS-CoV-1 virus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS infections, and with that as a head-start, believes it can produce a synthetic antibody to neutralize SARS-Cov-2.

Generation Bio is creating a process for delivering gene therapies with synthetic DNA rather than benign microbes like adeno-associated viruses used in many cases today. The company says its closed-end DNA or ceDNA technology combines DNA-like molecules with lipid nanoscale particles to deliver therapies that fix or replace malfunctioning genes, including payloads larger than viral vectors can handle, and without an immune response. Generation Bio’s lead programs are gene therapies for the inherited bleeding disorder hemophilia-A, and phenylketonuria, or PKU, a rare genetic metabolic disease, where treatments in both cases involve the liver. The company says it is also working on treatments for delivery to other tissues, including the eyes and brain.

The companies believe their combined approaches can design a treatment that provides long-lasting protection against Covid-19 infections. Because Generation Bio’s technology is designed to produce target proteins from a patient’s own cells, using it to deliver a Vir Biotech anti-SARS-Cov-2 antibody may offer durable and effective treatment to prevent infections. The companies are starting a joint research effort to determine the feasibility of that process. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the agreement were not disclosed.

“We are eager to bring our antibodies to patients as quickly as possible, and should they work, to make them available to as many patients as quickly as possible,” says George Scangos, CEO of Vir Biotech in a joint statement. Geoff McDonough, president and CEO of Generation Bio adds, “We are moving with urgency to explore leveraging our platform to build protection against Covid-19 for the long term.”

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