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Pharma Coronavirus Efforts Continue, Amgen & Incyte Join In

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With the coronavirus pandemic infecting more than a million people worldwide and killing more than 50,000, the focus is increasing on pharmaceutical and biotech companies, for any update on developing drugs and vaccines to help combat COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease. The pandemic has roiled the global stock market and the pharma and biotech sector has not been spared either with shares of almost all big drugmakers trading at 20-30% below their peak prices last year.

There is a concern about supply chain disruptions caused by the outbreak hurting drug/biotech companies’ first-half earnings. However, on the other hand, the outbreak may bring in new appreciation for the industry as several drug/biotech companies are working on making new antibodies, drugs and vaccines to combat the disease. The latest ones to join the bandwagon are biotech giants, Amgen (AMGN) and Incyte (INCY).

Amgen Partners With Adaptive Biotechnologies

On Thursday, Amgen AMGN announced a strategic partnership with Adaptive Biotechnologies ADPT to co-develop fully human neutralizing antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. Amgen obtained viral gene sequences from hundreds of patients. Using Adaptive’s viral-neutralizing antibody platform, Amgen will leverage its drug development and manufacturing capabilities to quickly advance promising antibodies that can bind and neutralize SARS-CoV-2 into clinical studies.

Incyte/Novartis to Study Jakafi for COVID-19 Related Complication

Incyte INCY and partner Novartis NVS announced plans to initiate a phase III study on theirJAK1/JAK2 inhibitor, Jakafi (plus standard of care medicines) as a treatment for patients with COVID-19 associated cytokine storm, which means an overproduction of immune cells. Jakafi is marketed to treat myelofibrosis by Incyte in the United States and by Novartis as Jakavi outside the United States.



Biotechs Race to Find a Cure/Vaccine

Around 20 companies are working on making coronavirus treatments or vaccines. The list includes bigger names like Gilead GILD and J&J JNJ as well as smaller biotechs like Moderna (MRNA - Free Report)

Gilead’s investigational antiviral candidate, remdesivir, is being evaluated in phase III studies to treat COVID-19. Regeneron has identified hundreds of virus-neutralizing, fully human antibodies, from which it will select the top two antibodies to develop a cocktail treatment to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Notably, hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, are currently being evaluated in studies for the treatment of COVID-19. 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.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global organization based in Oslo has provided funding of millions of dollars to biotechs like Moderna, Novavax, CureVac and Inovio and several universities to  accelerate the development of vaccines against COVID-19. Last month, Moderna dosed the first patient in a phase I study on its mRNA-based vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, targeting SARS-CoV-2.

In the United States, two organizations, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), are providing funding to companies involved in making drugs/vaccines.

Several big drugmakers like J&J, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have expressed interest in developing a vaccine for COVID-19. In fact, J&J has identified a lead vaccine candidate for COVID-19 and expects to begin phase I human clinical studies on the same by September. Others like Pfizer, Biogen, Lilly and now Amgen have signed collaborations with smaller biotechs to co-develop antibody therapies to treat COVID-19.  Meanwhile, Roche (RHHBY) and Regeneron/Sanofi (SNY) have begun studies to evaluate their IL-6 inhibitors, Actemra and Kevzara, respectively, to treat severe COVID-19 infection.

Smaller biotechs like Vaxart, Kamada, Inovio, Vir Biotechnology and Novavax are making an effort to leverage their existing technology/platform to identify antibodies/targets that can be developed into potential vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. Meanwhile, the FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization to Roche’s test to detect SARS-CoV-2.

Amgen, Incyte and Novartis all have a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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