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Biocon developing vaccine, antibody cure and repurposed drugs against COVID-19

Biocon is developing a customised non-replicating measles virus based vaccine for coronavirus, a latest antigen therapy that can be commercialised quickly, along with two new generation repurposed drugs and an antibody diagnostic kit

twitter-logoPB Jayakumar Last Updated: April 30, 2020 | 00:09 IST
Biocon developing vaccine, antibody cure and repurposed drugs against COVID-19

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Biocon and Pune-based Seagull Biosolutions developing vaccine for COVID-19
  • The novel measles virus vector platform vaccine to go into human trials in six months
  • Biocon working with 2-3 US companies to develop antibody injections or therapies
  • Antibody therapy trials will begin in July, can commercialise within 12 months
  • Biocon studying use of its two new generation drugs to treat inflammation and disorders in COVID-19 patients

Bangalore-based Biocon, one of the top bio-pharmaceutical companies in the world, is working on the next generation biotech cure for the COVID-19 pandemic. It is developing a novel customised non-replicating measles virus based vaccine, a latest antigen therapy that can be commercialised quickly. Biocon is also developing two new generation repurposed drugs for treatment and an antibody diagnostic kit.

Vaccine

"We are working with Pune-based biotech firm Seagull Biosolutions on a novel active virosome (non-replicating artificially created virus) vaccine project. We are helping them progress the development. It can reach human trials in another six months," Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman, Biocon told Business Today in an exclusive interview.

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When contacted, Dr Vishwas Joshi, Founder and Director, Seagull said the technology for producing this vaccine uses for the first time customised non-replicating measles virus vector platform. This is done by transplanting target antigens into measles virus to develop the vaccine, which can trigger antibodies to fight the coronavirus. Seagull, founded in 2011, was funded by Department of Biotechnology, ICICI and Gates Foundation. It had developed the technology five years ago and could demonstrate it in animal models for potential vaccines against chikungunya, ebola and dengue.

"We have been working with Biocon's R&D firm Syngene for one and a half years as a client for various projects and are now in discussions to tie-up and take the vaccine project forward. It will be ready in 60 days and animal studies will be done in the next 45 days to advance into human trials," says Dr Joshi.

Globally, over 80 vaccine projects are going on against corona, including eight in India. Shaw says it does not matter whether the technology is old or new, as the scientific community is looking to find a suitable, safe and faster vehicle to deliver the antigen into the human body to develop immunity against the virus. "The first smallpox vaccines were made by injecting small doses of mild cowpox viruses into healthy cows," she noted.

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Antibody therapy and repurposed drugs

The Biocon chairperson said Biocon is working with 2-3 American companies to develop antibody injections or therapies that can cure coronavirus. "Human trials may start by July. The Phase I and pivotal Phase II can be done much faster and it can be developed like a vaccine. The advantage is it can be commercialised in nine months to one year," she said.

Antibody treatment, a relatively new biotech innovation, is helpful for curing infected patients and can be used as a prophylactic for high risk people. Regeneron, AstraZeneca, Vir Biotechnology, Eli Lilly-AbCellera Biologics are some global companies trying antibody treatment for coronavirus, said sources.

Shaw said Biocon is trying two of its unique drugs/therapy as a treatment in COVID-19. One is 'CytoSorb', a novel blood purification therapy done through dialysis. The drug is indicated for Sepsis to reduce excessive levels of inflammation causing agents in the blood. By purifying the blood using this therapy, potentially deadly systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), a major cause of death in many COVID-19 patients, can be reduced.

Another therapy that Biocon is attempting is reusing 'Itolizumab', the world's first novel anti-CD6 antibody developed by Biocon to treat psoriasis. The drug is also found effective in treatment of other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

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"Clinical trials among COVID-19 patients in Cuba, from where we originally licensed it for development in early 2000s, has shown excellent results to reduce inflammations in lungs and other organs. We will soon conduct trials in India and have got regulatory permissions," said Shaw.

She said scientists at Syngene has developed indigenous antibody testing kits to exactly detect whether suspected patients have antibodies in their blood and can quickly detect whether infected, recovering or fully cured. In the initial stage of the virus spread itself, Syngene had developed probes and primers that were not available in India for diagnosing the disease. "Some companies in India made enzymes, viral collection kits and RNA collection kits and it is a fully indigenously developed antibody testing kit," Shaw said.

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