- Takeda, Japan's largest pharmaceutical company, announced Wednesday plans to develop a therapy that it thinks could mitigate, and potentially prevent, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
- One of Takeda's specialties is plasma-derived therapy, which takes from donor patients the protein-rich liquid part of blood and uses it to treat rare diseases or immune system deficiencies. Takeda believes this approach could treat coronavirus illness too, and is starting work on a therapy that takes antibodies from patients recovering from the virus and transfers them to recently infected people to trigger better immune responses.
- Medical leaders, along with the World Health Organization, see this plasma approach as an important research area as the global scientific community races to develop treatments for the novel coronavirus.
Takeda is the latest drugmaker to jump into coronavirus research efforts. Among the other companies developing treatments are Johnson & Johnson, Gilead, Sanofi and Moderna, which rapidly designed and manufactured a prototype vaccine in less than four weeks. The vaccine has since been sent to the National Institutes of Health for testing in a recently opened Phase 1 study.
The investments come as the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, continues to spread. As of March 3, there were 90,870 confirmed cases globally and just over 3,100 deaths. The vast majority of reported infections and deaths have been in China, where the virus originated in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province.
Like the related SARS and MERS, the new virus causes a respiratory illness. Called COVID-19, the disease appears to have a fatality rate between 2% to 3%, though some suspect it could be lower because there are likely many undiagnosed patients with mild or unnoticeable symptoms. So far, diagnosed patients have shown symptoms ranging from fever and dry cough to pneumonia and respiratory distress.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently co-authored an editorial that noted the potential of hyperimmune globulin, a blood protein which regulates immune response and serves as the basis for Takeda's new therapy, dubbed TAK-888.
Research has also shown that plasma from patients recovering from SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, was a helpful survival agent for those still battling the infection.
"Once available, intravenous hyperimmune globulin from recovered persons and monoclonal antibodies may be attractive candidates to study in early intervention," the authors wrote.
Takeda, naturally, sees value in the approach as well.
"By transferring the antibodies to a new patient, it may help that person’s immune system respond to the infection and increase their chance of recovery," Takeda said in a March 4 statement.
The company noted, though, that it will be making the therapy in segregated area of its Georgia manufacturing facility because "the plasma needed for TAK-888 is unlikely to come from current plasma donors..." The move shouldn't have negative effects on the production of Takeda's other plasma-derived therapies, the company said.
Takeda said it is talking with multiple national health and regulatory agencies in addition to partners in Asia, Europe and the United States about speeding research efforts for its new therapy, which will require access to source plasma from people who successfully recovered from the virus' illness.
Like other development efforts, Takeda's is just beginning and TAK-888 needs to be shown as safe and effective, a process that will take time. Most other drugmakers are working on preclinical projects, which have yet to be tried in humans.