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Industry, Univ. Labs Partner on Covid-19 Therapy

Covid-19 illustration


5 June 2020. Researchers from industry and academic labs are developing a synthetic antibody that in lab tests shows promise as both a Covid-19 therapy and vaccine. The new project involving the Chinese/Dutch biotechnology company Harbour BioMed, with Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, both in the Netherlands, is supported financially by drug maker AbbVie in Chicago. Further financial details were not disclosed.

A team from Harbour BioMed, Utrecht, and Erasmus discovered a humanized monoclonal or highly targeted antibody code-named 47D11, described last month in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers produced 47D11 from antigens injected into genetically engineered mice that create cell lines called hybridomas. The variety of transgenic mice called H2L2 are engineered by Harbour Medical to produce human antibodies, in this case that target a vulnerable region on the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 infections.

That vulnerable region is the virus’s spike that penetrates and infects cells. Proteins on the spike bind to angiotensin coverting enzyme 2, or ACE2, receptors, triggering Covid-19 infections. Lab tests by the Harbour BioMed, Utrecht, and Erasmus research team show a reformatted and optimized 47D11 blocks the spike surface proteins from binding to ACE2 receptors, effectively neutralizing the virus and preventing infections. The researchers also show the antibody works similarly against SARS-CoV-1 viruses responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003.

The agreement calls for AbbVie to fund further preclinical studies of 47D11 by the Harbour BioMed, Utrecht, and Erasmus researchers. At the same time, AbbVie will prepare for clinical trials of 47D11 as a treatment for people with Covid-19 infections and as a vaccine to prevent infections. In return, AbbVie gains an option to license 47D11; an option provides access to license the rights to a technology later on.

“Treatment and prevention of Covid-19 remains a critical global need,” says Tom Hudson, chief scientist at AbbVie in a statement. The antibody discovered by {Utrecht], [Erasmus], and Harbour BioMed is extremely promising based on the mechanism by which it targets the virus and on its developability as a fully human protein.”

“The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has highlighted the importance of understanding coronavirus biology,” notes Utrecht virologist Berend-Jan Bosch, senior author of the Nature Communications paper. “The collaboration with AbbVie provides an excellent opportunity to translate our research into a clinical candidate with great potential for advancing the fight against this disease.”

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