US biopharma company Regeneron, which employs more than 1,000 people in Limerick, has been awarded $450 million by the US government to develop a Covid-19 antibody cocktail.
The cocktail, known as Regn-Cov2, uses laboratory-produced monoclonal antibodies to mimic natural antibodies from infected people.
The US federal fund is designed to help to ramp up the production of “neutralising” antibodies that are tailored to mimic immune-system responses to the Covid-19 virus.
Regeneron confirmed this week it has started “late-stage clinical trials” with 2,000 patients to assess the effectiveness of the antibody cocktail. It only began trials in June.
One of the trials, run jointly with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will test Regn-Cov2’s ability to prevent infection in those with close exposure to a Covid-19 patient, such as a house mate.
The contract supports continued manufacturing so it can be made available immediately if clinical trials are successful and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants emergency use authorisation or product approval.
The US government is spending billions of dollars on likely winners to tackle Covid. Regeneron expects to have up to 300,000 US-made treatment doses and 1.3 million potential prevention doses ready by the end of summer.
If FDA approval is granted, the cocktail will be made available at no cost in the US, Regeneron said. Other Regn-Cov2 trials are also under way, with preliminary data expected later this summer.
The US-owned company announced plans earlier to create 60 more jobs at its Limerick facility. The cocktail, however, will initially be made at its plant in Albany, New York.
The cocktail could offer "a potential solution to prevent and treat Covid-19 infections, even in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic", said Regeneron president and chief scientific officer George D Yancopoulos.
To overcome issues with existing plasmas, scientists have developed monoclonal antibodies which are carefully selected for their ability to target specific pathogens and then mass-produced in a lab.
Regn-Cov2 contains two antibodies that latch on to and help to neutralise Covid-19, hampering its ability to infect healthy cells, according to Regeneron. The antibodies bind to the virus’s “spike protein”, a structure that juts from the surface of the pathogen and plugs into cells to trigger infection.
It found the antibodies by studying genetically modified mice with human-like immune systems and antibodies collected from human Covid-19 patients.