AlloVir, Baylor ally to develop COVID-19 T-cell therapy

AlloVir and Baylor College of Medicine have teamed up to develop T-cell therapies against the novel coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. The alliance builds on existing work to create off-the-shelf cell therapies that identify and eliminate specific viruses. 

Since setting up shop in 2013, AlloVir has built up a body of evidence that it can help people with weakened immune systems cope with viral pathogens. The approach entails exposing donor T cells to cytokines combined with viral fragments, thereby equipping the immune cells to recognize and help eliminate certain pathogens. 

The most advanced expression of the approach is Viralym-M, a T-cell therapy designed to take out six viruses that commonly affect immunocompromised patients. Baylor moved that drug into phase 2 in 2014, coming away with data that encouraged AlloVir to plan a late-phase program.

Now, AlloVir and Baylor are applying the same approach to the SARS-CoV-2 virus sweeping across the world. AlloVir is aiming to create an off-the-shelf therapy that is capable of targeting SARS-CoV-2 and potentially similar viruses such as SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and endemic coronaviruses. 

The plan is to position the SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells for use as a monotherapy and incorporate the coronaviruses into ALVR106, a preclinical asset aimed at community-acquired respiratory viruses. In doing so, AlloVir thinks it can improve outcomes in immunocompromised patients who are exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses with the potential to overwhelm their weakened immune systems. 

Neither AlloVir nor Baylor has sketched out a timeline for the COVID-19 program. Other companies, notably those such as Gilead Sciences that repurposed existing drugs, have more advanced assets, but T cells in development at AlloVir could still fill a gap in the treatment landscape. Equally, AlloVir’s interest in coronaviruses other than SARS-CoV-2 means its therapies could still be relevant even if it misses the window in which treatments for the pandemic pathogen are in high demand.