Coronaviruses have jumped from animals to humans before—and they’ll do it again. That’s why Adagio Therapeutics is working on antibodies that can fight multiple members of the virus family, including SARS-CoV-2, the culprit behind the current pandemic. The startup snagged $50 million to push its lead candidates into the clinic.
The Adimab spinout is working on monoclonal antibodies that could be used to prevent infection by coronaviruses or to treat patients who have fallen ill. The hope is that one injection could protect people from coronaviruses for months. Unlike vaccines, which stimulate the body to produce antibodies against a pathogen, prophylactic antibody treatments give patients ready-made antibodies to fight off the virus.
Adagio’s antibodies bind to a piece of the spike protein that is found on multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2—which causes COVID-19—SARS-CoV-1, which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and two coronaviruses circulating in bats.
“Broad and potent neutralizing antibodies, like the ones that Adagio is developing, are a very promising long-term solution to controlling not only SARS-CoV-2, but also future coronavirus outbreaks. If we had developed broadly neutralizing antibodies during the SARS outbreak in 2003, we would likely be in a much better place today,” said Dennis Burton, Ph.D., co-chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research, in a statement.
The series A financing, drawn from Polaris Partners, Mithril Capital, Fidelity, OrbiMed, M28 Capital and GV, will bankroll IND-enabling studies and early clinical work. The company plans to be in the clinic by the end of the year.
“The repeated spillover of coronaviruses into the human population is now well documented and requires a more comprehensive strategy, particularly when you take into account the emerging doubts about the robustness and durability of the immune response in SARS-CoV-2 patients,” said Adagio CEO Tillman Gerngross, Ph.D., in the statement. A professor of bioengineering at Dartmouth College, Gerngross has co-founded multiple companies, including Alector, Avitide, Arsanis and GlycoFi in addition to Adimab.
Although vaccine development efforts against COVID-19 are moving at “warp speed,” antibody makers think their drugs will reach patients first. What’s more, it is uncertain how long they will be able to protect people from infection, and some groups, including older or immunocompromised people, may not be able to receive a vaccine at all.
Regeneron, Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly are among the other drug developers working on antibodies that could be used to treat or prevent COVID-19 infection. Of the group, AstraZeneca and Regeneron have chosen to test a combination of two antibodies that target different areas of the receptor-binding domain on the new coronavirus’s spike protein. Using two antibodies rather than one could reduce the risk that a mutant, drug-resistant form of the virus will escape treatment and become the dominant strain.
“Our path to normalcy envisions a product, based on the well-known safety profile of antibodies, that can be administered twice a year, while providing greater than 90% protection against SARS-CoV-2, can be used as an effective treatment, and can offer protection against future emerging coronaviruses for everyone,” Gerngross said.