AbCellera and Eli Lilly join hunt for coronavirus therapy

Canadian biotech AbCellera has joined forces with Eli Lilly to co-develop antibody products to prevent and treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus.

Based in Vancouver, AbCellera has a rapid pandemic response platform developed under the US government’s Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) Program.

The deal will combine this with Lilly’s ability to develop, manufacture and distribute large quantities of therapeutic antibodies against the coronavirus.

Within one week of receiving a blood sample from one of the first US patients who recovered from COVID-19, AbCellera said it screened over five million immune cells looking for ones that produced functional antibodies that helped the patient neutralise the virus and recover from the disease.

AbCellera has identified over 500 unique fully human antibody sequences, which it says is the largest panel of antiSARS-CoV-2 antibodies ever reported.

The next step is to screen these antibodies to find the ones most effective in neutralising SARS-CoV-2.

Many of these antibodies will be expressed in collaboration with partners at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and pending agreement with NIAID will be tested for their ability to neutralise the virus.

AbCellera and Lilly have committed to equally share initial development costs towards a product, after which Lilly will be responsible for all further development, manufacturing and distribution. If successful, Lilly is ready to work with global regulators to bring a treatment to patients.

Germany’s BioNTech has struck a separate collaboration agreement with China’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical over the Mainz biotech’s rights in China to an experimental coronavirus vaccine.

If regulators approve the vaccine called BNT162, Fosun will market it in China, while BioNTech will retain rights for the rest of the world.

Trials in humans are to begin from late April in Europe, the US, and China, and BioNTech is in advanced discussions with its existing partner Pfizer over the development of the vaccine outside China.

US-based Moderna is working with the US National Institutes of Health on another vaccine and is closest to trials, and has announced plans to start a trial in hard-hit Seattle this month.

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