AbbVie, eyeing shift to endemic, adds to COVID-19 work with Scripps partnership

AbbVie is adding to its COVID-19 work in the hopes of developing new antivirals that can aid the shift from pandemic to endemic.

The Chicago-area Big Pharma is dishing out an undisclosed amount to gain access to nonprofit Scripps Research's SARS-CoV-2 program so the duo can work on new direct-acting antivirals for COVID-19. The global collaboration comes as many states and cities around the U.S. have put mask mandates to the wayside and biotechs shut down programs centered on the pandemic disease.

AbbVie will go up against industry heavyweights who have already secured emergency use authorizations for their antiviral treatments, including Pfizer's Paxlovid, Merck's molnupiravir and Gilead's Veklury. Paxlovid is slated to bring in $22 billion in 2022 sales for Pfizer, while Merck expects $5 billion to $6 billion from molnupriavir this year.

But AbbVie knows "constant change" is a recurring theme of the COVID-19 pandemic. New variants elicit the need for new treatment options "to combat more contagious, aggressive and severe strains of the virus," said Tom Hudson, M.D., AbbVie's chief scientific officer, in a statement. 

Scripps emphasized the world will need new treatments to fill "ongoing gaps in patient needs to move from pandemic to endemic COVID-19," CEO Peter Schultz, Ph.D., said in the Tuesday announcement. Scripps' initial SARS-CoV-2 research program was bankrolled by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The program adds to AbbVie's work in COVID-19, which has not led to a drug or vaccine authorization like that of multiple Big Pharma peers. AbbVie inked a $30 million research alliance with Harvard in August 2020 to work on coronavirus therapies, joined the Innovative Medicines Initiative's Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe group to make new antibodies and antivirals for COVID-19 and has assets in two National Institutes of Health trials focused on COVID-19 treatments. Those NIH-led trials include AbbVie's inflammatory med Skyrizi and cenicriviroc, an investigational med that has been studied in patients with HIV and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

AbbVie has also tested Imbruvica, jointly developed with Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, in patients with COVID-19 in a phase 2 trial. The study tested the leukemia and lymphoma drug to see if it could reduce respiratory failure in patients with COVID-19. The trial wrapped up in June 2021. AbbVie did not provide details on updates to the program as of publication time.