Saudi-US re­searchers in li­cens­ing deal over ‘ex­cit­ing’ new COVID-19 treat­ment

Sci­en­tific team work­ing to­ward man­u­fac­ture, clin­i­cal tri­als of virus-neu­tral­iz­ing an­ti­body

Arab News - - News Saudi Arabia - Noor Nu­gali Riyadh Dr. Mazen Has­sanain Gen­eral man­ager of SaudiVax

A joint Saudi-US sci­en­tific re­search team has an­nounced a li­cens­ing agree­ment for the de­vel­op­ment of a new treat­ment for the coro­n­avirus dis­ease (COVID-19).

The ven­ture, led by biotech com­pany SaudiVax in co­op­er­a­tion with Amer­i­can firm Abound Bio, has found hu­man mon­o­clonal an­ti­bod­ies with ex­cep­tion­ally po­tent neu­tral­iz­ing ac­tiv­ity against SARSCoV-2 (the virus strain that causes COVID-19).

Dr. Dimiter Dim­itrov, Abound Bio’s chief sci­en­tific of­fi­cer, de­scribed the dis­cov­ery as “very ex­cit­ing” and SaudiVax gen­eral man­ager, Dr. Mazen Has­sanain, told

Arab News: “We are an­nounc­ing the progress to­ward the man­u­fac­tur­ing and the clin­i­cal tri­als, and hope­fully it will be avail­able to Saudi Ara­bia as early as its avail­abil­ity in the US, which is a very unique propo­si­tion.”

Af­ter COVID-19 was first iden­ti­fied in China in mid-De­cem­ber last year, “the team be­gan scout­ing the best group of sci­en­tists that would come up with a po­ten­tial vac­cine for the virus,” said Has­sanain. “They started to col­lect tal­ented Saudis from a group of mul­ti­tal­ented skill sets needed to per­form cer­tain as­sess­ments of the many in­no­va­tions that were gen­er­ated, due to the in­ten­sive re­search and de­vel­op­ment to­ward COVID-19 dis­ease.”

By Fe­bru­ary, the team was work­ing with the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh, Abound Bio, and other sci­en­tists who to­gether were able to iden­tify a promis­ing pro­tein called re-mon­o­clonal an­ti­body (AB1) that in lab­o­ra­tory tests was shown to bind suc­cess­fully to the virus and neu­tral­ize it.

The pro­tein also pre­vented the virus from in­fect­ing hu­man cells and caus­ing the dis­ease, Has­sanain added.

“We worked very dili­gently with the team in the US, and have done mul­ti­ple other tests in the lab and in other mod­els from an­i­mals sim­u­lat­ing the hu­man in­fec­tion, in which we were able to show and con­firm that the pro­tein an­ti­body was able to bind the virus, treat the an­i­mals that were in­fected by the dis­ease al­ready, or pro­tect the an­i­mals that were not in­fected by the dis­ease yet and be ex­posed to the virus.”

The an­ti­bod­ies were se­lected out of bil­lions of oth­ers us­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily large an­ti­body li­braries. The ex­perts be­hind the dis­cov­ery, Dr. John Mel­lors, CEO of Abound Bio, and Dim­itrov led the study and found lead an­ti­bod­ies were highly ef­fec­tive in­hibitors of live SARS-CoV-2 virus repli­ca­tion at low doses in cell cul­ture and in an­i­mal mod­els of both in­fec­tion pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of es­tab­lished in­fec­tion.

“We are very ex­cited by the po­tency, speci­ficity, and ac­tiv­ity against mu­tant viruses, and the ef­fec­tive­ness of these an­ti­bod­ies in rel­e­vant an­i­mal mod­els of SARSCoV-2 in­fec­tion,” added Dim­itrov. Mel­lors said: “The ex­cep­tional an­ti­bod­ies iden­ti­fied are promis­ing for both treat­ment and pre­ven­tion of SARS-CoV-2.”

The an­ti­bod­ies block repli­ca­tion of all the mu­tant viruses that have been iden­ti­fied in peo­ple and do not in­crease in­fec­tion of cells in ap­pro­pri­ate mod­els of “an­ti­body-de­pen­dent en­hance­ment,” which has been a ma­jor con­cern about an­ti­body ther­apy of in­fec­tious dis­eases.

“We made sure to triple check the po­tency and the abil­ity of the pro­tein to suc­cess­fully neu­tral­ize the an­ti­body, which is data that is strongly sup­port­ing the pro­tein. This pro­tein is be­yond ev­ery­thing an­nounced to­day and was only done in that way,” said Has­sanain. Large-scale pro­duc­tion and reg­u­la­tory ap­provals of an­ti­bod­ies are gen­er­ally less com­plex than for vac­cines, and an an­ti­body could be ap­proved and avail­able be­fore a vac­cine. Hu­man an­ti­bod­ies by­pass the im­mu­niza­tion process and give a per­son im­me­di­ate pro­tec­tion from in­fec­tion.

We worked very dili­gently with the team in the US.

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