Roche wades deeper into Covid-19 fight, inking antiviral pact with $350M cash following Regeneron deal
Roche is making its first bet on an antiviral against Covid-19 in style, shelling out $350 million in cash to grab ex-US rights.
The drug comes from Atea Pharmaceuticals, the 7-year-old biotech created by Pharmasset co-founder Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, which essentially rebranded itself as a Covid-19 fighter in May when it closed a whopping $215 million venture round. Over a dozen investors bought in, including marquee names like Bain Capital and RA Capital.
That money is funding a Phase II clinical trial for AT-527 in hospitalized patients with moderate Covid-19, with a global Phase III in outpatients to follow in early 2021. Then there are plans for another Phase III in the post-exposure prophylaxis setting.
Tapping into Roche’s development and manufacturing prowess allows Atea to do this at scale, said Sommadossi, the company’s president and CEO.
A nucleotide prodrug, AT-527 belongs to the same class as Gilead’s authorized remdesivir and the experimental drug MK-4482 (formerly EIDD-2801), which Merck is now developing with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. By interfering with viral RNA polymerase, it’s designed to inhibit replication of SARS-CoV-2.
While remdesivir is currently only available through intravenous infusion — Gilead is also developing an inhaled version — Atea boasts of having an oral option that can be produced quickly.
After an effort to repurpose the IL-6 antibody Actemra all but flopped, Roche began building a portfolio of experimental treatments, starting with Regeneron’s antibody cocktail. As with Atea, Roche bagged the rest-of-world rights, but instead of paying an upfront offered manufacturing capacity and funding for clinical studies.
REGN-COV-2, now a well-known program thanks to a high-profile patient in President Donald Trump, is being tested as both a prevention and treatment.
“The ongoing complexities of COVID-19 require multiple lines of defence,” Roche Pharma CEO Bill Anderson said in a statement. “By joining forces with Atea, we hope to offer an additional treatment option for hospitalised and non-hospitalised COVID-19 patients, and provide important relief for hospital infrastructures during a global pandemic.”
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