Antibody Therapies Take the Spotlight as Covid-19 ‘Plan B’

An experimental antibody therapy to combat Covid-19 from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. got a shot of confidence from the U.S. government on Tuesday with a $450 million contract to start amping up production.

With Regeneron and Eli Lilly & Co. expected to have results in the current quarter, the latest funding may signal a new plan of attack for President Donald Trump.

Lilly, working with closely held AbCellera Biologics Inc., and Regeneron are leading the development of so-called “neutralizing” antibodies that are tailored to mimic immune responses to the virus. Other companies racing to come up with similar treatments include AstraZeneca Plc and Vir Biotechnology Inc. in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

Antibody Therapies Take the Spotlight as Covid-19 ‘Plan B’

Regeneron has dubbed its two antibody cocktail REGN-COV2, and investors should get a first look at early-stage results in Covid-19 patients this summer. Larger studies of REGN-COV2 as both a preventative therapy and a treatment are already underway. That includes one study with the National Institutes of Health looking to use it to prevent infection in people who may have already been exposed to the virus.

Regeneron’s antibody cocktail is an excellent “Plan B” if plans for a near-term vaccine for Covid-19 don’t pan out, Aydin Huseynov, a Benchmark analyst said. The funding, which comes as part of Operation Warp Speed, may signal a new direction for the program meant to speed a vaccine to market faster than has ever been done, as Regeneron’s program is not a vaccine.

REGN-COV2 could be priced at a 20% to 30% premium to Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir if the antibody mixture shows it can save lives by preventing Covid-19 and hospitalizations, Huseynov wrote in a note to clients.

After disappointing results from some repurposed drugs like the cheap generic hydroxychloroquine, investors may be looking at therapeutic antibodies following Trump’s promise of a “big surprise” in the race to curb the pandemic. The administration may be moving from projections of a vaccine before year-end to plans touting new “market-moving” study results as soon as this week, according to a NBC report on Friday.

Regeneron’s funding “is going to help accelerate things,” Steven Seedhouse, a Raymond James analyst, said in a phone interview. The company “seems to be getting the backing it would need to make it to prime time,” he said. While Lilly has a headstart in development, Seedhouse is most bullish on Regeneron’s success as its cocktail looked the most potent in lab tests. Also, the two antibody approach could come in handy as the virus mutates, a growing concern during the pandemic.

Lilly’s antibody LY-CoV555 could have results imminently. The medicines could also create some competition for remdesivir after Gilead’s infusion received an emergency nod from U.S. regulators in May, especially if antibodies appear effective in early, mild or moderate forms of the disease, Seedhouse said.

While early stage trials are designed to primarily study safety, the first look at these antibodies may show how many patients need to be hospitalized, ventilated, or most importantly, if people are surviving longer, Seedhouse said. Only the generic anti-inflammatory dexamethasone has so far proven have an ability to reduce the number of deaths.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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