Brii Bio gets all hands on deck for Covid-19 antibody hunt, leveraging Chinese partners' work with recovered patients
A preprint paper describing 206 monoclonal antibodies against SARS-Cov-2 isolated from eight Covid-19 patients in China attracted a small rally on Twitter a few days ago, when Broad investigator David Liu dubbed it “very good news.”
Now Brii Bio is unveiling some more good news: It’s partnering with the researchers behind that paper from Tsinghua and 3rd People’s Hospital of Shenzhen to bring some of those antibodies to the clinic.
The rationale behind deploying antibodies from patients who have recovered from a viral infection as a prophylactic and therapeutic is rooted in age-old convalescent plasma-based therapies. The strategy — which is also pursued by Vir and Regeneron — has also been borne out in trials of Ebola treatments, CEO Zhi Hong said.
By combining the Chinese partners’ wet lab capabilities and access to patients with the development, antibody optimization and regulatory expertise of his trans-Pacific biotech, Hong is looking at entering the clinic within six months. They are currently testing multiple candidates in parallel; a cocktail regimen with at least two antibodies is likely to emerge.
Hong, a longtime infectious disease researcher, calls this a “perfect team” put together at the right time to put existing skills and relationships to a new use.
“I have to say that I was really impressed by the hospital in Tsinghua,” he said, recalling a visit years ago. “They literally have close to a hundred investigators working on shifts. They’re working day and night, those people. Really hard working and really inspiring.”
Having appointed a project leader, Brii is rapidly assembling a team to tackle the challenge. In fact, Hong sees this process accelerating his plans to grow to 80 this year — 60 in the Beijing R&D center and 20 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While cash crunches may be forcing other biotechs to lay off parts of its staff or freeze hiring, now is the time for Brii to recruit the best people who want to step up in a crisis, Hong said.
The all-hands-on-deck mentality also entails supporting others to increase everyone’s chance of success. Brii has handed David Ho, the Columbia researcher best known for his work in AIDS, $2 million to support his hunt for a coronavirus cure.
Part of Ho’s four-pronged strategy is to find antibodies from patients who have recovered — first in Hong Kong and now in New York City as it becomes the epicenter of the US outbreak.
“Our industry has been trained to really compete with each other like gladiators. I think in this case we’re really looking at how to work together,” he said. “Clearly this is a problem the scale of which is so large I don’t think any single company can address that themselves.”
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