AstraZeneca targets summer start for COVID-19 antibody trial

Mene Pangalos
AstraZeneca Executive Vice President Mene Pangalos (AstraZeneca)

AstraZeneca has outlined its multipronged approach to the development of antibodies against the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Big Pharma is applying its own discovery capabilities to the task and helping evaluate candidates identified by academic partners in China and the U.S. 

As part of DARPA’s Pandemic Preparedness Platform program, AstraZeneca developed capabilities to discover antibodies against emerging viral threats. AstraZeneca first revealed it had joined the race to develop coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies several weeks ago, going on to say it had put more than 50 experts in fields such as virology and immunology on the case around the start of the month. 

Now, AstraZeneca has provided the most detailed breakdown of its activities so far. While other R&D shops are focusing on one source of antibodies, such as people who have recovered from COVID-19, AstraZeneca is assessing candidates from three different sources.

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As well as evaluating antibodies from COVID-19 patients, as is happening in AbCellera’s partnership with Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca is working with prospects from humanized mice and laboratory approaches such as phage display. Regeneron is among the other companies using humanized mice as a source of SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies.

Whatever the source of the antibody, the goal is to target the spike protein the virus needs to enter cells. AstraZeneca is screening antibodies based on their ability to bind to the spike protein with a view to getting into humans in three to five months. The timeline suggests AstraZeneca is trailing the front-runners—Regeneron is targeting an “early summer” study start—but is still advanced enough to come to market before the pandemic is resolved.

In hustling prospects toward the clinic, AstraZeneca will lean on the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The organizations will use their biosafety level 3 laboratories to run preclinical assessments of the safety and efficacy of antibodies shared by AstraZeneca. 

AstraZeneca is carrying out its internal drug discovery efforts alongside work to support academic partners. Vanderbilt University Medical Center, another member of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s pandemic initiative, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are sending AstraZeneca the genetic sequences of antibodies they have discovered for in silico and in vitro assessment by the Big Pharma.   

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