Bristol Myers Gains Covid Antibody in Deal With Rockefeller

Bristol Myers Squibb Co. has clinched a deal with The Rockefeller University for the rights to a Covid-19 therapy that combines two antibodies, the drugmaker said Wednesday.

Rockefeller began human trials of the experimental treatment in mid-January. The agreement, for an undisclosed sum, grants Bristol Myers an exclusive license to develop, manufacture and commercialize the therapy globally. Rockefeller is entitled to royalty payments on potential future sales.

Monoclonal antibody treatments mimic proteins the body naturally makes to repel viruses. They are some of the few successfully developed therapeutics to prevent patients with early symptoms of Covid-19 from getting sick enough to need treatment in a hospital. President Donald Trump received such a treatment after contracting Covid-19.

Preclinical data has shown that the Rockefeller treatment could be effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, the company said in a statement. Mutations originating in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil have spurred worldwide concerns that available vaccines might not work as well in holding off the mutations.

Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, has aired concerns that antibody treatments could also be less effective in combating disease triggered by new mutations.

“Since monoclonal antibodies bind to a very specific part of the virus, when there’s a mutation there, it has much greater chance of obliterating the efficacy of a monoclonal antibody,” Fauci said Jan. 21 news briefing on Jan. 21.

Researchers at New York City-based university pursued an antibody combination in hopes that the approach would minimize the risk of the virus mutating and developing resistance to the therapy.

The therapy is being studied both as an intravenous infusion and as a shot administered under the skin. Should Bristol Myers succeed in developing the latter, it could have an advantage in the broader field of monoclonal antibodies, since most require patients to go to infusion centers to receive hours-long IVs.

150 People Tested

Marina Caskey, an immunologist and professor of clinical investigation at Rockefeller University, led a team that tested nearly 150 people who recovered from Covid-19 following the first virus surge in New York City in April.

By assessing the recovered-patients’ blood plasma, Caskey and her colleagues identified antibodies suitable for therapeutic development. Following initial results from a Phase 1 clinical trial conducted at Rockefeller University Hospital, Bristol Myers and the university researchers plan to jointly work through the development process toward efficacy studies.

Shares of the New York-based drugmaker were down 0.3% at 10:57 a.m. on Wednesday.

Other Efforts

Eli Lilly & Co. is also working on an injected form of its antibody treatment, bamlanivimab.

In November, U.S. regulators authorized antibody drugs from Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc for emergency use. While the U.S. has clinched deals with the two companies for millions of doses, the treatments have been underused due to logistical issues, insufficient reimbursement and what some see as lacking efficacy data.

Other biopharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca Plc., GlaxoSmithKline Plc and its partner Vir Biotechnology Inc. have also joined the antibody development race.

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