A joint Saudi-US scientific research team has announced a licensing agreement for the development of a new treatment for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The venture, led by biotech company SaudiVax in cooperation with American firm Abound Bio, has found human monoclonal antibodies with exceptionally potent neutralizing activity against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus strain that causes COVID-19).
Dr. Dimiter Dimitrov, Abound Bio’s chief scientific officer, described the discovery as “very exciting” and SaudiVax general manager, Dr. Mazen Hassanain, told Arab News: “We are announcing the progress toward the manufacturing and the clinical trials, and hopefully it will be available to Saudi Arabia as early as its availability in the US, which is a very unique proposition.”
After COVID-19 was first identified in China in mid-December last year, “the team began scouting the best group of scientists that would come up with a potential vaccine for the virus,” said Hassanain.
“They started to collect talented Saudis from a group of multitalented skill sets needed to perform certain assessments of the many innovations that were generated, due to the intensive research and development toward COVID-19 disease.”
By February, the team was working with the University of Pittsburgh, Abound Bio, and other scientists who together were able to identify a promising protein called re-monoclonal antibody (AB1) that in laboratory tests was shown to bind successfully to the virus and neutralize it.
The protein also prevented the virus from infecting human cells and causing the disease, Hassanain added.
“We worked very diligently with the team in the US, and have done multiple other tests in the lab and in other models from animals simulating the human infection, in which we were able to show and confirm that the protein antibody was able to bind the virus, treat the animals that were infected by the disease already, or protect the animals that were not infected by the disease yet and be exposed to the virus.”
The antibodies were selected out of billions of others using extraordinarily large antibody libraries. The experts behind the discovery, Dr. John Mellors, CEO of Abound Bio, and Dimitrov led the study and found lead antibodies were highly effective inhibitors of live SARS-CoV-2 virus replication at low doses in cell culture and in animal models of both infection prevention and treatment of established infection.
“We are very excited by the potency, specificity, and activity against mutant viruses, and the effectiveness of these antibodies in relevant animal models of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” added Dimitrov.
Mellors said: “The exceptional antibodies identified are promising for both treatment and prevention of SARS-CoV-2.”
The antibodies block replication of all the mutant viruses that have been identified in people and do not increase infection of cells in appropriate models of “antibody-dependent enhancement,” which has been a major concern about antibody therapy of infectious diseases.
“We made sure to triple check the potency and the ability of the protein to successfully neutralize the antibody, which is data that is strongly supporting the protein. This protein is beyond everything announced today and was only done in that way,” said Hassanain.
Large-scale production and regulatory approvals of antibodies are generally less complex than for vaccines, and an antibody could be approved and available before a vaccine. Human antibodies bypass the immunization process and give a person immediate protection from infection.