- Amgen, a biotech best known for its cancer and immune disease drugs, will begin researching antiviral treatments for COVID-19, announcing Thursday a partnership with Seattle's Adaptive Biotechnologies to jumpstart its development efforts.
- Amgen's collaboration with Adaptive will follow an approach already taken by Vir Biotechnology and AbCellera, which recently teamed up with Biogen and Eli Lilly, respectively. Adaptive will screen immune proteins from patients who've recovered from COVID-19, searching for antibodies active against SARS-Cov-2 that Amgen can then engineer and make into a drug.
- Amgen's work will be helped by genetic testing being conducted by the biotech's Iceland-based subsidiary deCODE Genetics, which in mid-March began testing the country's general population for the new coronavirus.
In January, when the severity of the global threat posed by COVID-19 became apparent, many of the companies that announced drug development efforts were smaller biotechs. The few large drugmakers that jumped into research early on, such as Johnson & Johnson, Gilead and Regeneron, had experience in infectious disease or owned existing antiviral drugs that might treat coronavirus infections.
Two months later, the list of major biotech and pharmaceutical companies without a significant drug program aimed at COVID-19 has shrunk considerably. Thursday's announcement from Amgen trims that group one further.
Amgen's not known for its infectious disease research. But the biotech is skilled at developing and manufacturing the antibody-based drugs which it and Adaptive plan to produce.
In particular, Amgen and Adaptive will focus on B cells, a type of white blood cell that's part of the body's adaptive immune system. These cells secrete antibodies, the workhorse proteins which can hunt down and destroy foreign invaders like viral pathogens.
By sifting through tens of thousands of antibodies produced by recovered patients, Amgen and Adaptive hope to find some that can neutralize SARS-CoV-2.
The companies have worked together previously, collaborating on tests to assess patient responses to multiple myeloma therapy. The partnership on COVID-19 was announced before the two struck a formal agreement. Amgen and Adaptive said they plan to start working immediately, and hammer out the financial details in the coming weeks.
The fast-moving nature of the virus, which has infected more than 215,00 Americans according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University, has forced other companies to accelerate negotiations, too. Biogen and Vir similarly began research before finalizing a deal announced several weeks ago.
While Amgen, Biogen and Eli Lilly are working with biotech partners to screen antibodies from recovered patients, Regeneron is aiming to engineer its own. The Tarrytown, New York-based drugmaker recently said it expects to begin human testing this summer — a timeline that Lilly is also aiming for.
Amgen and Adaptive did not indicate when they expect a human clinical trial could begin.
J&J and Sanofi, meanwhile, are working to develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, although those efforts will likely take much longer to complete.