US drugmaker says has identified antibodies to treat coronavirus

Saumya Joseph, Reuters

Posted at Mar 24 2020 05:46 PM

US drugmaker Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc has said it had identified hundreds of antibodies that could treat or prevent the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and was preparing to begin clinical trials by early summer, sending the drugmaker's shares up 12 percent.

The company will select the top 2 antibodies to develop a "cocktail" treatment and scale up its manufacturing to produce 200,000 doses per month by the end of summer.

At least a dozen other drugmakers are currently working on vaccines, antivirals and other treatments to help those infected with the fast-spreading virus, with some antivirals already being used in trials.

Regeneron has a far more robust history of drug development for pandemics, said Oppenheimer analyst Hartaj Singh, noting that during the Ebola outbreak, the US drugmaker's antibody cocktail demonstrated the greatest effect.

"It seems acute treatments will be needed for hundreds of thousands of cases, and there could recurring outbreaks in the future... investors are now ascribing greater value to Regeneron stock for this," he added.

Pfizer Inc has agreed to co-develop a vaccine with German drugmaker BioNTech SE as well as develop antiviral treatments that could potentially be used with Gilead Sciences Inc's antiviral called remdesivir against the coronavirus.

Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi have also teamed up with a US government agency to develop virus vaccine candidates.

Drug developer Moderna Inc, which dosed its first patient with its experimental vaccine on Monday, has made the most headway among companies engaged in coronavirus vaccine development efforts.

"Regeneron is arguably the most efficient antibody developer in the biopharma industry and should deserve a higher valuation for its strong innovation capability," SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges said.

The company is also considering testing whether its antibody cocktail could be used along with the vaccines in development, spokeswoman Alexandra Bowie told Reuters.

"There's a lot of things racing towards the finish line, all at once. It's yet to be seen what the exact combination would be," Bowie added.

The efforts are a part of its partnership with the US Department of Health and Human Services. Regeneron also said it was working with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Defense Authority to its increase manufacturing capacity.

In addition to the development of the antibody cocktail, the drugmaker is testing its rheumatoid arthritis drug, Kevzara, with partner Sanofi against the virus.

The company's shares were up at $494.99 in afternoon trading.

As of March 24, COVID-19, which first emerged in China in December last year, has infected some 378,000 people in 174 countries, among whom 16,500 have died.