Advancing our discovery of novel coronavirus-neutralising antibodies against COVID-19

Furthering the advancement towards the discovery of novel coronavirus-neutralising antibodies to prevent and treat the progression of COVID-19, AstraZeneca has signed new agreements with academia and US government agencies and confirms plans to progress a combination approach consisting of a pair of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs).

New agreements with academia and US government agencies

AstraZeneca has licensed coronavirus-neutralising antibodies from Vanderbilt University, US, and plans to advance a pair of these mAbs into clinical development as a potential combination therapy for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. This agreement builds on the Company’s collaboration agreement with Vanderbilt, announced in April 2020.

Following rapid mobilisation of its global research efforts, AstraZeneca has evaluated the ability of more than 1,500 mAbs to bind to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and inhibit its capacity to infect healthy cells in a laboratory setting. Based on these pre-clinical results, the Company has signed an exclusive license to six candidate antibodies currently in Vanderbilt’s portfolio that target the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Two mAbs from these six will progress into clinical evaluation as a combination approach within the next two months.

AstraZeneca has also signed an interagency agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the US Department of Defense, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the US Department of Health and Human Services, to support the company’s efforts to develop a mAb treatment against SARS-CoV-2, including a Phase I clinical trial and the manufacturing of the investigational product for testing in Phase I.

By combining two monoclonal antibodies that bind to distinct parts of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into what potentially could be a single preventative therapy, we hope to improve its effectiveness in neutralising the virus. These collaborations help ensure potential medicines that can prevent or treat COVID-19 are accelerated as quickly and safely as possible.

Mene Pangalos Executive Vice President, BioPharmaceuticals R&D

Monoclonal antibodies: a promising approach against COVID-19

mAbs mimic natural antibodies. It is hoped that an antibody-based treatment could neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus and thus, in theory, be given as a preventative option for those exposed to the virus, as well as to treat and prevent disease progression in patients already infected by the virus. It also has the potential to provide immediate effect in the patient.

A possible future antibody-based treatment could potentially be used as a preventative approach for COVID-19 and could be complementary to vaccines, e.g. for people who may not be able to have a vaccination or to provide added protection for high-risk populations. In addition, we plan to evaluate our monoclonal antibody combination candidate as a potential treatment for patients with COVID-19.  

The spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the primary target being explored for potential COVID-19 mAbs. The spike protein is responsible for binding and fusing the virus to the host cell membrane. The aim is that by targeting the spike protein, the antibody will be able to neutralise the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus by affecting its capacity to infect healthy cells.  

There are three key areas on the spike protein for which researchers around the world are exploring antibody-based treatments: the receptor binding domain, the N-terminal domain and the stem.

SARS-CoV-2 spike protein

AstraZeneca plans to progress a combination approach consisting of two mAbs that bind to distinct parts on the receptor binding domain. It is anticipated that the combination approach may increase the efficacy of the treatment and reduce the impact of any mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The mAbs will also have an extended half-life, engineered using proprietary technology to extend their longevity in the body.

Part of a comprehensive COVID-19 response

AstraZeneca’s comprehensive response to the COVID-19 global pandemic also includes a landmark agreement with the University of Oxford for the global development and distribution of the University’s potential recombinant adenovirus vaccine aimed at preventing COVID-19 infection from SARS-CoV-2. The Company has also quickly moved to test new and existing medicines from multiple therapy areas to treat the infection.