HIV researcher David Ho has a new line of attack on SARS-CoV-2, and his fledgling startup is gunning for the clinic
The famed AIDS researcher David Ho started off the Covid-19 pandemic working to develop an antibody against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but now he’s behind a new biotech that’s taking a slightly different approach to fight the disease.
Ho is a co-founder of RenBio, which pulled in its first fundraise Thursday morning with a $24 million Series A, the company announced. The biotech is pouring its first efforts into a bispecific antibody targeting two sites on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and is touting activity against several Covid-19 variants of concern including strains originating from the UK, South Africa and Brazil, among others.
Funds from the raise are expected to help complete IND enabling studies and advance a Phase I/II clinical trial for the bispecific, dubbed RB-100, sometime around the end of 2021. Columbia University, which houses Ho’s lab and licensed the antibody to RenBio, has retained an equity stake in the company, the size of which was not disclosed.
Yaoxing Huang is RenBio’s other co-founder, one of Ho’s colleagues at Columbia.
When the pandemic got underway, Ho and his team worked to isolate antibodies from Covid-19 patients. He noted in an announcement from Columbia last July that his team had been working “nonstop 24/7 since early March,” shifting their focus almost entirely away from AIDS to try to counteract the pandemic. They published their findings in Nature that month as well.
Two of the antibodies from the lab have since been licensed to unnamed pharma companies, but Ho warned in a paper earlier this year that emerging virus variants pose a threat to monoclonal antibody therapies for Covid-19. The South Africa variant was particularly troublesome for the cocktails, with Ho writing their ability to neutralize was “completely or markedly abolished.”
Concern over such variants was top of mind for RenBio COO Neal Padte and R&D director Rachel Liberatore when they decided to license Ho’s new bispecific. Padte had worked with Ho in antibody development for about a decade, he told Endpoints News, and they felt licensing RB-100 out to RenBio was the best way to get it into the clinic.
The rise in variants was also one of the main reasons RenBio decided to take on the program, Liberatore said, and with more strains continuing to emerge, she noted that a bispecific model could end up being the new normal to treat future Covid-19 cases.
“I think there’s a growing understanding that the more [areas] a therapeutic can target on the virus, the more breadth it will have and hopefully the longer it will stay relevant,” Liberatore told Endpoints. “The idea of single monoclonals as therapeutics is really sort of waning in popularity in favor of this idea of a multi-pronged approach, whether it’s a cocktail of monoclonals or bispecifics.”
Though RenBio is getting started with this in-licensed program, its core technology is something separate. It’s still focused around antibodies with a lead preclinical candidate for SARS-CoV-2, and also spun out of work with Ho and Huang.
The original interest here came from wanting to develop antibodies against HIV, as it specifically spawned out of Ho’s AIDS Research Center, Liberatore noted. Such therapies are generally cost prohibitive and time-consuming for patients, however, and RenBio’s goal with the platform is to address the affordability and durability of antibody therapies.
“In the HIV field, it is a well-known fact that neutralizing antibodies that exist are very broad and potent as prophylactic and therapeutic agents, but are very expensive,” Liberatore said. “We took that and developed that at RenBio into an idea for the broad-based delivery of antibodies, but also for many other clinical indications and inflammatory diseases.”
Liberatore added that the team’s training in infectious diseases led them to this area first, despite the broad interest. Behind the preclinical SARS-CoV-2 candidate, RenBio is also developing a program for influenza and potentially HIV.
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