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Fresh hope of Covid-19 therapy as Avacta reveals its Affimer reagents block key virus interaction

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Avacta is hopeful that its Affimer reagents could be used Covid-19 therapies after they were shown to block a key interaction between the virus and human cells.

The Whittlesford-based company said it is seeking a partner with the resources available to develop a neutralising therapy as quickly as possible.

Dr Alastair Smith, CEO of Avacta Group. Picture: Mark Bickerdike Photography (34728880)
Dr Alastair Smith, CEO of Avacta Group. Picture: Mark Bickerdike Photography (34728880)

Several of the Affirmer reagents, which it recently generated for use in point-of-care saliva test to diagnose Covid-19, are able to block the interaction between the virus’ spike protein and ACE2, a receptor on human cells that is key to the virus infection pathway.

Avacta says neutralising therapies could be given to those exposed to the virus, such as health and social care workers, to prevent infection, as well as to patients already infected by the virus,to help treat and prevent disease progression.

Affimers are small proteins that represent alternatives to antibodies for use in biotherapeutics, while offering similar specificity and affinity.

CEO Dr Alastair Smith said: “This is a very exciting development in the Covid-19 programme.

“It only took four weeks to generate more than 50 Affimer reagents that bind the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein and amongst those we now know that there are neutralising Affimers that block the interaction with a key human cell surface receptor, raising the potential for a therapy to prevent infection.

“Recently GSK invested $250million in Vir Biotechnology Inc to develop potential antibody treatments for Covid-19 by selecting antibodies from recovered patients, and AstraZeneca also recently announced that it would start a programme to find new monoclonal antibodies that block the spike/ACE2 interaction.

Affimer technology from Avacta. (34728886)
Affimer technology from Avacta. (34728886)

“There is significant potential for a therapy that could help prevent infection and limit the progression of the disease, providing immediate benefit to patients.

“With a large and well-resourced partner, a neutralising Affimer therapy could potentially be developed more quickly than a vaccine and we believe that the likelihood of success would be high.”

As the Cambridge Independent has reported, Avacta developed its Affimer reagents for use by Cytiva in a rapid point-of-care antigen saliva test to be mass produced for large-scale population screening and for self-testing by consumers.

It is also providing the reagents to Adeptrix, in Massachusetts, with which it will be developing a Covid-19 laboratory test to run on mass spectrometers using the US company’s proprietary bead-assisted mass spectrometry (BAMS) assay platform.

Dr Smith added: “I look forward to updating the market further on this and on the development of a Covid-19 antigen rapid saliva test with Cytiva which continues apace.”

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