After Kaletra setback, AbbVie joins forces with biotech, academia for experimental COVID-19 hopeful


Earlier this year, AbbVie tried and stumbled in a clinical trial using its HIV med Kaletra to help certain COVID-19 patients; now, it’s tapping a triumvirate of life science groups to develop a new antibody for the virus.

The biopharma is teaming up with cancer and inflammation biotech Harbour BioMed, fresh off a $75 million raise, alongside Utrecht University (UU) and Erasmus Medical Center (EMC); the newly aligned foursome will work together to develop a new antibody both prevent and treat COVID-19.

The focus is on a fully human, neutralizing antibody 47D11, which was discovered by UU, EMC and HBM and recently reported in the journal Nature.

It works by targeting a conserved region of the virus' spike protein. In cell culture studies presented in that Nature paper a month ago, the antibody blocked infection by the SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the current pandemic, and a second coronavirus SARS-CoV.

AbbVie comes on board with its financial and commercial clout to support preclinical activities, while “simultaneously undertaking preparations for later stage preclinical and clinical development work.”

It nabs an option to exclusively license the antibody from the three parties to work on an sell worldwide. Financial terms were not revealed.

This comes after AbbVie’s HIV med Kaletra (Aluvia), a combination of antiviral drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, failed across the board in a 199-patient clinical trial. It didn’t top standard of care at improving clinical symptoms, extending lifespan or cutting viral shedding in patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19.

It is now betting on an experimental and partnered approach toward tackling virus.

“Treatment and prevention of COVID-19 remains a critical global need. The antibody discovered by UU, EMC and Harbour BioMed is extremely promising based on the mechanism by which it targets the virus and on its developability as a fully human protein,” said Tom Hudson, M.D., SVP, R&D, and CSO at, AbbVie.  “We look forward to working with this outstanding team to advance this antibody towards clinical trials.”

“AbbVie is a global leader in developing innovative antiviral therapies,” added Jingsong Wang, founder, chairman and CEO of HBM. “This collaboration will greatly accelerate our efforts to bring this antibody forward into clinical trials as quickly as possible and contribute a solution to this pandemic.”

This follows in the footsteps of a number of biopharmas using the antibody and partnering approach, including Eli Lilly and AbCellera, which at the start of month kick-stared the first clinical trial for an antibody against the virus.

In the phase 1, Lilly will primarily assess the safety and tolerability of the antibody, known as LY-CoV555, with a view to running a larger study that will begin to validate its efficacy in vulnerable populations. Lilly expects to have data from the phase 1 trial by the end of June.

AbbVie is a little more behind, but will likely to look to also speed through into human testing.