Amgen Executive Vice President for Research and Development David M. Reese, M.D., discussed the company’s efforts to develop a neutralizing antibody to treat or prevent COVID-19 infection during a recent Wall Street Journal “Tech Health” online panel discussion on “The Global Race for a Vaccine and Drug.” Moderated by Wall Street Journal health reporter Jonathan Rockoff, the June 2 session also featured Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel and Merck Chief Patient Officer and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Julie Gerberding. The audience for WSJ Tech Health included more than 1,500 people from 35 countries.
Dr. Reese explained that Amgen and Adaptive Biotechnologies are screening hundreds of millions of B cells contained in the blood plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients, in order to identify those B cells that produce “neutralizing antibodies” most effective in binding to the virus and preventing it from infecting other cells. “Once we have isolated those B cells and have candidates for effective therapeutic antibodies,” he noted, “we aim to engineer them for optimal effectiveness and then produce them at scale.”
Once developed, approved, and in use, these antibodies could treat or prevent COVID-19 until vaccines become available or the population naturally acquires widespread immunity. “One could envision such an antibody being used in a variety of settings,” Dr. Reese explained, “from the treatment of patients with serious disease to potential [use] in a preventive setting. For example, front-line healthcare workers could be administered the antibody periodically to help prevent infection.”
Dr. Reese noted that Amgen is moving quickly to screen antibody candidates and hopes to begin clinical testing in coming months. The most promising approach might involve a “cocktail” combining antibodies with antivirals or other types of drugs, as has proven effective in treating HIV and certain cancers. “There may well be different generations of either vaccines or therapeutics, or we may need multiple complementary approaches,” he commented. “One thing we should probably get away from,” he warned, “is the notion that there is going to be a single silver bullet,” adding that instead there will likely be “a set of approaches that ultimately control the pandemic.”
“We know some of these antibodies may work and some may not work,” Dr. Reese concluded. “This is really an all-hands-on-deck moment for industry, academia and the government. We are approaching it in that spirit, in the hope that we quickly can sort out what the best therapeutics may be.”
Click here (subscription required) to view the Wall Street Journal Tech Health panel discussion in which Dr. Reese participated.