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Trials for Covid-19 treatment could start in July

Mar 24,2020
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Seo Jung-jin
Celltrion expects to have a coronavirus treatment available for injection into some patients as early as mid-July, the biopharmaceutical company said Monday.

That’s an acceleration from the initial time frame outlined by chairman and founder Seo Jung-jin, who in announcing the project in late February pledged to have a cure for the deadly virus available for clinical trials within six months.

“Based on our timeline, the treatment will be available to be injected for human clinical tests after late July. According to our researchers, this process may be accelerated by a maximum of two weeks,” Seo said. “Our anticipation is that we’ll be able to produce up to one million patients’ worth in a month.”

The treatment under development is a “neutralizing antibody,” which by itself is only effective as a vaccine for healthy people or as a treatment for coronavirus patients experiencing milder symptoms.

For patients with severe symptoms, such a treatment would be most effective in combination with an antiviral drug, which slows down the replication of the virus. That type of treatment is likely 18 months of development away, according to Seo.

The company, Seo said in a statement on YouTube, has identified about 300 antibodies that have the possibility of contributing to recovery from the illness caused by the new coronavirus - an achievement Celltrion calls a “first milestone” in developing a neutralizing antibody.

The chairman added that in the absence of an antiviral agent for more seriously ill patients, he hopes the company’s treatment can “bridge” the gap in the meantime.

The antibodies that the company is reviewing were found in blood samples from recovered coronavirus patients that were provided by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention three weeks ago.

Celltrion was selected as a preferred developer for the agency’s project to develop a monoclonal antibody to treat and prevent Covid-19.

Normally, narrowing down the first group of antibody candidates takes three to six months, said Seo.

“This is the most important procedure. From here, there aren’t many variables left, apart from following step-by-step procedures for mass production,” he said.

The next step, he said, would be to screen the list until finding an antibody or combination of antibodies that best binds with the virus.

Once identified, these will form the basis of the treatment to be tested through pre-clinical and clinical trials around the world in the third quarter of 2020.

Celltrion is also developing a self-testing diagnostic kit, for which it plans to complete clinical tests by late May. The kit works by detecting a protein that only exists in Covid-19 patients, and the company says test results can be returned in as few as 15 minutes.

Currently distributed testing kits, on the other hand, detect a type of protein that exists across all coronaviruses, the company explained.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]