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Biotech Stocks Accelerate Efforts for Coronavirus Treatments

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As the coronavirus pandemic is spreading rapidly, resulting in more and more casualties, biotech companies are scrambling to explore treatments for curing and preventing the same. Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for the severe illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 and hence, the race to develop drugs to combat this contagious virus has intensified lately. More than 65,000 Americans have reportedly been infected so far.

Given the alarming levels of spread and severity, while some companies are focusing on developing antibodies against the virus, others are exploring their approved drugs or pipeline candidates to evaluate if they are effective in treating the infected patients.

Clinical-stage immunology company, Vir Biotechnology, Inc. (VIR - Free Report) recently announced that it has identified multiple human monoclonal antibody (mAb) development candidates that neutralize SARS-CoV-2. The company has already collaborated with bigwig Biogen to accelerate its efforts to develop treatments for COVID-19. Earlier, Vir’s lead development candidate was transferred at-risk to WuXi Biologics and Biogen Inc. (BIIB - Free Report) to save time. The company anticipates the human trials to begin within 3-5 months.

The lead development candidate is being produced with and without the vaccinal mutation and the company intends to move both versions into human testing. In addition, Vir has identified additional antibodies that bind to different sites and therefore, have the potential to be used in combination with the lead development candidate. The company has seen a significant surge in its share price in the last couple of months, owing to its efforts for anti-COVID-19 treatments.

Earlier, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN - Free Report) too identified antibodies, which can possibly treat COVID-19. The company has now isolated hundreds of virus-neutralizing, fully-human antibodies from its VelocImmune mice, which have been genetically-modified to have a human immune system. The company has also isolated antibodies from humans who have recovered from COVID-19 to maximize the pool of potent antibodies.

Meanwhile, Gilead’s (GILD - Free Report) experimental treatment for the Ebola virus, remdesivir, is being evaluated for safety and efficacy in adults diagnosed with COVID-19. Reportedly, remdesivir is already being used in the United States for the treatment of the disease under federal rules that allow the use of unapproved drugs on compassionate grounds. As the candidate has shown promising results in infected patients, investors are banking on Gilead for being the first company to come up with a treatment for this deadly disease.

Apart from these, several small biotechs are working to develop vaccines for the prevention of the disease. Ology Bioservices Inc. and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., are working together to manufacture Inovio's DNA vaccine for prevention from COVID-19. The Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded Ology Bioservices with a contract, valued at $11.9 million

Earlier this week, Roche (RHHBY - Free Report) obtained FDA nod to conduct a double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of intravenous rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug, Actemra (tocilizumab), plus standard of care in hospitalized adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. Regeneron and partner Sanofi too announced a program to evaluate their RA drug, Kevzara, to treat patients hospitalized with severe infection due to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the FDA is also working with government agencies and academic centers, which are evaluating the use of chloroquine to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infection to potentially reduce the duration of symptoms, as well as viral shedding, and help prevent the spread of the disease. Chloroquine is already approved for treating malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies are underway to determine the efficacy of using chloroquine to treat COVID-19.

Consequently, companies like Mylan (MYL - Free Report) have geared up for the production of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. also announced the immediate donation of more than 6 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets through wholesalers to hospitals across the United States.

While the drugs and vaccines will need some time to be tested and a cure is not imminent, investors will keep an eye on these companies as the pandemic is not likely to die out soon.  A positive outcome from any of the ongoing studies will be a significant boost for the respective company.

Regeneron currently carries a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

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