Brii, Chinese partners eye Q3 start for COVID-19 antibody trial

Concept of SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19
Brii Biosciences and its partners have identified two antibodies that may work synergistically. (Maksim Tkachenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Brii Biosciences has teamed up with a Chinese hospital and university to develop antibodies against COVID-19. The partners leveraged their proximity to the initial outbreak and experience with SARS and MERS to build up a library of potentially neutralizing antibodies, putting them on track to start testing candidates in humans in the third quarter.

Beijing-based Tsinghua University and Shenzhen No.3 People’s Hospital responded to the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan and other parts of China by isolating and characterizing monoclonal antibodies specific to the viral spike protein receptor-binding domain, resulting in a pool of 206 prospects taken from eight individuals infected with the virus. With the researchers seeing “impressive binding and neutralizing activity” against SARS-CoV-2, the project attracted the interest of Brii.

Sino-U.S. biotech Brii has established itself as a one of the rising stars of the infectious disease space in recent years, reeling in hundreds of thousands of dollars in VC funding to buy in a slew of assets. Late last year, Brii wound down its deal-making to focus on advancing its existing assets, but COVID-19 has led it to rethink.

Brii has come on board to provide expertise in development, antibody optimization, management of contract service providers and regulatory oversight to the antibody program. The Chinese university and hospital that began the program will continue to handle testing, screening, virologic, biochemical and cell culture characterizations.

Together, the partners aim to get a candidate into the clinic in the third quarter. A preprint paper (PDF) describing the progress made so far reveals the researchers have identified two particularly potent antibodies that “could be combined for synergistic antiviral effect.” Researchers are also continuing to screen more antibodies from patients, including the patient who provided the two most potent prospects found so far, in search of more powerful and diverse treatments.

The potential to develop antibodies for prophylactic and therapeutic use against the pandemic virus has attracted the interest of multiple research groups. Regeneron, which developed an effective antibody against the Ebola virus, is on the case, and Eli Lilly has thrown its weight behind a program in development at AbCellera.

While the antibody programs are trailing the lead repurposed antivirals and mRNA vaccines, there are reasons to think they are more likely to be highly effective than those more advanced projects. The idea of taking antibodies from a patient who has encountered a pathogen and using them as the basis of a medicine is established. Now, a clutch of researchers are racing to find out if the approach translates to COVID-19.