Celltrion secures candidate antibodies to fight COVID-19, aims for clinical test in late July

2020.03.24 09:20:07 | 2020.03.24 15:43:16

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Celltrion"s chairman Seo Jeong-jin

South Korea’s top biosimilar developer Celltrion Inc. has successfully secured candidate antibodies to fight COVID-19, which is now a pandemic, earlier than expected and aims to initiate a clinical test of its cure in late July, the company`s chairman vowed on Monday.

Celltrion has built a library of 300 candidate antibodies to be tested for their potential capacity to neutralize COVID-19, the company’s chairman Seo Jeong-jin said on YouTube livestreamed Monday afternoon.

The milestone was achieved in three weeks after the Korean biosimilar giant received immune cells from surviving patients in cooperation with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). It represents the completion of the critical third phase in Celltrion’s seven-step development program.

The company will soon screen the library to find a virus-neutralizing antibody (step 4) and then conduct an animal test (step 5) and a clinical test (step 6) before commercial production (step 7). A monkey test of a therapeutic antibody is planned in May and a clinical test in late July, Seo said.

Upon completion, Celltrion will be able to roll out therapeutic antibodies to treat up to 1 million patients a month, Seo added.

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The company is also planning to obtain more blood samples from COVID-19 surviving patients to develop a “super antibody” that can bind to and neutralize coronavirus and other similar viruses, according to Seo. This aims to better respond to coronavirus mutations that make the virus more insidious. Screening will take place this month.

Seo also said if an antibody is proven therapeutic, researchers will naturally focus on its vaccine-like effect, preparing to develop a vaccine as a next step.

Celltrion is also studying a fast-working sampling kit for the new coronavirus, which targets only S proteins in the virus unlike currently used real-time diagnostic kits.

Seo said the new kit will demonstrate high accuracy, sensitivity and specificity close to those of standard RT-PCR kits, while the average time to detection takes just 15 to 20 minutes. The company will prototype the kit in late April and complete clinical tests by the end of May to obtain CE mark approval in Europe.

Thanks to high expectations for the more concrete COVID-19 cure development plan, shares of Celltrion outperformed the broad Kospi market on Monday, finishing the day with a 14.75 percent gain to 175,000 won ($137.43). Its biopharmaceutical making affiliate Celltrion Pharm and distribution and marketing unit Celltrion Healthcare also soared 29.47 percent at 44,150 won and 6.57 percent at 66,500 won, respectively.

On Tuesday, Celltrion and its affiliates’ stocks extended the winning streak. Celltrion stocks closed 5.14 percent higher at 184,000 won, while Celltrion Pharm and Celltrion Healthcare also surged 29.78 percent to 57,300 won and 2.41 percent to 68,100 won.

By Kim Si-gyun and Minu Kim

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