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AstraZeneca studying potential COVID-19 antibody treatment

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AstraZeneca, which has its U.S. headquarters in Wilmington, is studying a new potential treatment for COVID-19. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ASTRAZENECA

WILMINGTON – Building on its work toward a COVID-19 vaccine, the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced Tuesday morning that it has secured federal funding for a treatment using antibodies grown in labs.

AstraZeneca, which has its U.S. corporate headquarters in the Wilmington suburbs, reported that it has licensed six coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies from Vanderbilt University and plans to enter two of them into clinical development in the next two months. Terms of the collaboration agreement it signed with Vanderbilt in April were not disclosed.

The treatment focuses on antibodies, which are created in the body to fight infections. Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) mimic natural antibodies and can be produced in large quantities in the lab to inject into infected patients.

The spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the primary target being explored for targeting by mAbs, because it is responsible for binding and fusing the virus to the host cell membrane. The aim is that by targeting the spike protein, the antibody will be able to neutralize the effects of the virus by affecting its capacity to infect healthy cells. 

AstraZeneca reported that it has evaluated more than 1,500 mAbs in the treatment of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and found the most encouraging pre-clinical results in Vanderbilt’s antibodies. The two advancing to trial are hoped to be combined together in a single treatment.

AstraZeneca Lab

Building off its research into a COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca is also pursuing an antibody-based treatment. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ASTRAZENECA

“By combining two monoclonal antibodies that bind to distinct parts of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into what potentially could be a single preventative therapy, we hope to improve its effectiveness in neutralizing the virus. These collaborations help ensure potential medicines that can prevent or treat COVID-19 are accelerated as quickly and safely as possible,” said Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals research and development division, in a statement announcing the deal.

In conjunction with the Vanderbilt licensing, AstraZeneca announced that it has also signed an interagency agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The company declined to disclose the value of the agreements after a Delaware Business Times inquiry. The deals will support the company’s development efforts, including a Phase I clinical trial and the manufacturing of the investigational product for testing in Phase I.

AstraZeneca announced in May that it was developing a promising COVID-19 vaccine that it licensed from the University of Oxford in the U.K., where its global headquarters is located. On Tuesday, the company said the mAbs treatment could be used as a preventative for those potentially exposed to the COVID-19 virus and could be complementary to a vaccine, as some people are not able to receive vaccinations.

On Tuesday morning, AstraZeneca’s stock ticked up slightly from Monday’s close of $52.58 a share to $52.80 at the market’s opening. The company’s share value was still recovering from a Monday sell-off, when investors reacted to the scuttled merger proposal between AstraZeneca and competitor Gilead, which makes the experimental COVID-19 treatment remdesivir.

By Jacob Owens


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