Lumen bags U.S. grant for GI-focused COVID-19 antibody cocktail

Lumen Bioscience has received a federal grant to develop a treatment for gastrointestinal infection in COVID-19 patients. The money will support work on a biologic drug cocktail that Lumen thinks can be a scalable, inexpensive fix for the gastrointestinal symptoms that affect many people with COVID-19.

While COVID-19 was originally thought of as a respiratory disease, research suggests most people also experience gastrointestinal symptoms. One study found 25% of people only have gastrointestinal symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms are severe enough to require surgical resection. There is evidence linking gastrointestinal infection to liver damage and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

More speculatively, it is also possible that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted from the gastrointestinal tract via the fecal-oral route. The virus in the 2003 SARS outbreak was transmitted via the fecal-oral route, and there is some evidence that the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 can also infect people through that route.

Lumen wants to counter both gastrointestinal symptoms and the risk of fecal-oral transmission by developing a drug cocktail that targets infection in the gut. The experimental candidate is built from single-domain antibodies, the modality used by companies including Ablynx that are also known as nanobodies.  

The U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command is providing almost $4 million to fund the program. Lumen will use the money to take candidates through IND filing while carrying out early engineering work for a large-scale manufacturing plant. The goal is to get into phase 2 and complete engineering work for a 1-billion-dose-a-year production plant by the spring of 2021. 

Manufacturing is a big part of what Lumen is bringing to the project. While other groups pioneered the modality, Lumen thinks it has the capabilities to make single-domain antibodies at the scale demanded by the pandemic.

“This platform builds on 25 years of research by others in the field of camelid antibody engineering, and our unique cGMP manufacturing system makes an important contribution to this legacy: a scalable, cost-effective way to make and deliver these biologic drugs to disease targets in the GI tract,” Lumen CEO Brian Finrow said in a statement.