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AstraZeneca targets clinical tests of new Covid-19 antibody treatments in ‘three to five months’

AstraZeneca is aiming to carry out clinical evaluation of new Covid-19 treatments in three to five months.

The biopharmaceutical company, headquartered in Cambridge, has confirmed it is using a variety of techniques to develop monoclonal antibodies and is teaming up with government agencies and academia to accelerate the work.

Mene Pangalos, EVP and president, research and development biopharmaceuticals at AstraZeneca (33327445)
Mene Pangalos, EVP and president, research and development biopharmaceuticals at AstraZeneca (33327445)

Its scientists are exploring three potential sources for antibodies against the virus that causes Covid-19, known as SARS CoV-2 – patients who have recovered from the disease, immunised humanised mice and laboratory techniques such as phage display.

AstraZeneca said it has more than 50 virology, protein engineering, clinical and bioprocess experts across biopharmaceuticals R&D and operations working on the drive to find novel antibodies that can bind to the virus and neutralise it.

Mene Pangalos, executive vice president, biopharmaceuticals R&D, at AstraZeneca, said: “Through our scientific expertise in infectious disease and antibody discovery and development, we have rapidly mobilised our research efforts to help respond to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

“By partnering with government and academia, our ambition is to accelerate the discovery and development of a safe and effective antibody treatment to help fight Covid-19.”

The company is using proprietary antibody discovery technology previously developed under an agreement with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as part of the Pandemic Preparedness Platform programme.

The technology has a proven track record - as part of the programme, AstraZeneca was able to discover potential therapeutic antibodies for influenza-A in under 60 days.

AstraZeneca's approach to developing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Image: AstraZeneca (33327215)
AstraZeneca's approach to developing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Image: AstraZeneca (33327215)

The company is collaborating with:

  • the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the United States, which are providing AstraZeneca with genetic sequences for antibodies they have discovered against SARS-CoV-2 for further assessment both in silico and in vitro assessment.
  • the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, which will use their biosafety level 3 labs to carry out preclinical safety and efficacy assessment of any promising antibodies discovered by AstraZeneca.

Mark Esser, vice president, microbial sciences, biopharmaceuticals R&D, at AstraZeneca, said: “At AstraZeneca, we have a long history of, and deep expertise in discovering and developing antibody-based treatments for a range of diseases.

“The proprietary technology we are using to identify novel coronavirus-neutralising antibodies has already been pressure-tested against influenza-A in response to the DARPA P3 programme.

“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.”

Monoclonal antibodies that are synthesised in the laboratory mimic the body’s natural antibodies and it is hoped that an antibody-based treatment could neutralise the virus.

Laboratory work at AstraZeneca. Picture: Marco Betti (33327436)
Laboratory work at AstraZeneca. Picture: Marco Betti (33327436)

Theoretically, they could be given as a preventative option for those exposed to the virus and be used to treat the disease or halt its progression in infected patients, with immediate effects.

Describing its multi-pronged approach, AstraZeneca said it would harness its proprietary immune replica technology, developed as part of the agreement with DARPA, to capture and screen antibodies from millions of primary B cells.

It will also use hybridoma technology, a method for producing large numbers of monoclonal antibodies through a culture of hybrid cells that results from the fusion of B cells and immortal myeloma cells.

The monoclonal antibodies, once identified, will be screened against their ability to bind to the spike protein that sits on the surface of SARS-Cov-2 and is responsible for enabling the virus to invade human cells.

AstraZeneca said it is also discussing clinical development and manufacturing capabilities with governments.

The company also announced last week that it is working with GlaxoSmithKline and the University of Cambridge to set up a new Covid-19 testing lab in the city, which will aim to carry out 30,000 tests a day.

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