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AstraZeneca Begins Research for Discovering Novel Coronavirus-Neutralizing Antibodies

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 09 Apr 2020
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AstraZeneca (Cambridgeshire, England), a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, is joining forces with government and academia with the aim of discovering novel coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies. By harnessing its internal expertise and entering into new collaborations, the company is aiming to identify monoclonal antibodies that have the potential to recognize, bind to and neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus, thereby reducing the impact of COVID-19.

AstraZeneca focuses on three main therapy areas – Oncology, Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disease (CVMD) and Respiratory – and is also selectively active in the areas of autoimmunity, neuroscience and infection. The company leverages its combination of capabilities, which encompass both small molecules and biologics, and include immunotherapies and developing innovative delivery devices that can offer choice to patients. These are reinforced by a strong focus on personalized healthcare capabilities, which aim to match medicines only to those patients who will benefit from them.

AstraZeneca scientists are exploring three potential sources for antibodies against the SARS CoV-2 virus – patients who have recovered from COVID-19, immunized humanized mice and laboratory techniques such as phage display. The spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the primary target being explored for potential COVID-19 monoclonal antibodies. The aim is that by targeting the spike protein, the antibody will be able to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus and affect its capacity to infect healthy cells. AstraZeneca is harnessing its proprietary immune replica technology, developed as part of the abovementioned agreement with DARPA, which can capture and screen antibodies from millions of primary B cells. The company is also utilizing hybridoma technology, which is a method for producing large numbers of monoclonal antibodies through a culture of hybrid cells that results from the fusion of B cells and immortal myeloma cells. Once identified, the monoclonal antibodies are screened against their ability to bind to the spike protein before further developability tests are carried out. AstraZeneca is aiming for clinical evaluation in the next three to five months. This multi-pronged approach is likely to increase the chances of discovering potential monoclonal antibodies against the coronavirus. Should any of the antibodies progress through to development and subject to scale up and regulatory approvals, AstraZeneca has end-to-end capabilities for development, manufacturing and distribution of monoclonal antibodies.

In addition to internal research and development, AstraZeneca is collaborating with government and academic experts to evaluate additional promising candidates for future clinical use. The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Vanderbilt University Medical Center are providing AstraZeneca with genetic sequences for antibodies they have discovered against SARS-CoV-2 for further in silico and in vitro assessment. Via collaborations with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, promising antibodies from AstraZeneca, discovered through its internal research efforts and collaborations, will undergo preclinical safety and efficacy assessment in the organizations’ biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratories. The company is also in discussion with governments to support clinical development and manufacturing capabilities.

“Through our scientific expertise in infectious disease and antibody discovery and development, we have rapidly mobilized our research efforts to help respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic. By partnering with government and academia, our ambition is to accelerate the discovery and development of a safe and effective antibody treatment to help fight COVID-19,” said Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, BioPharmaceuticals at AstraZeneca.

“At AstraZeneca, we have a long history of, and deep expertise in discovering and developing antibody-based treatments for a range of diseases. The proprietary technology we are using to identify novel coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies has already been pressure-tested against influenza-A in response to the DARPA P3 program. Harnessing these capabilities, our scientists are working tirelessly and collaboratively, hoping we can contribute to putting an end to this crisis as fast as we can,” said Mark Esser, Vice President, Microbial Sciences, BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca.

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