Bay Area Biopharma Company Drugs Lead the Way in COVID-19

Bay Area

As the world and biopharma grapple with developing vaccines and drugs against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, researchers are turning to a handful of drugs that show particular promise. Several of those drugs are by companies with offices or headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here’s a look.

Genentech’s Actemra. Actema (tocilizumab) is approved for use for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It was developed by Roche’s Chugai Pharmaceutical unit and is marketed in the U.S. by Genentech, based in South San Francisco. In addition to being used for RA, it can be utilized to suppress cytokine release syndrome in CAR-T cancer patients. Cytokine release syndrome, a massive hyper-reaction of the immune system, is also found in patients toward the end of COVID-19.

Roche is launching a Phase III trial of Actemra plus standard-of-care patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. After treatment, patients in the trial will be followed for 60 days and an interim analysis will be performed in hopes of early evidence of efficacy. It expects to begin enrolling patients in April.

Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir. The Foster City-based Gilead is running multiple clinical trials of its remdesivir in Seattle, Everett, Washington, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.

Remdesivir is a nucleotide analog with broad-spectrum antiviral activity in in vitro studies and in in vivo studies in animals against Ebola, Marburg, MERS and SARS. MERS and SARS are both caused by coronaviruses that have at least some similarities to the coronavirus causing COVID-19. It should be emphasized how unusually fast the launch of these trials is, which underlines the urgency of the coronavirus eipdemic. Gilead initially announced it was considering remdesivir for COVID-19 in late January. It was originally developed to treat Ebola but has shown some success in targeting coronaviruses.

Genentech’s Tamiflu. The company’s Tamiflu (oseltamivir), which was developed by Gilead Sciences and is marketed by Genentech, is part of a COVID-19 clinical trial being held at Rajavithi University in Bangkok, Thailand. The trial will combine protease inhibitors, Tamiflu and favipiravir with chloroquine, a drug most commonly used to treat malaria. Quite a bit of attention is being focused on chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. In addition to malaria, the drug is used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Favipiravir is an influenza drug marketed by a subsidiary of FujiFilm, which has shown encouraging results in Chinese clinical trials in 340 COVID-19 patients.

Amgen’s Mvasi, the Generic Version of Genentech’s Avastin. Avastin (bevacizumab) is a recombinant humanized monoclonal antibody, an anti-VEGF drug. It is approved to treat several forms of cancer, including colorectal, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), kidney cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer and recurrent glioblastoma. The generic version is being tested in at least one clinical trial in China against COVID-19 pneumonia.

It's important to note that these are just Bay Area biopharma companies. Numerous other companies are testing drugs as possible treatments for COVID-19, including Roivant’s Gimsilumab,AbbVie’s Kaletra, Regeneron, Nascent Biotech, Johnson & Johnson, and many others working to develop vaccines against the virus, including Moderna, Sanofi, CureVac and many others.

An industry-wide conference call demonstrated how the biopharma industry is working together as “one team,” said Pfizer’s chief scientific officer Mikael Dolsten.

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