ExeVir Snags $50 Million to Take Llama Antibody into First In-Human Trials

ExeVir CEOand Llama

Torsten Mummenbrauer, CEO of ExeVir Bio, pictured above alongside a llama.

German shepherds take down bad guys, dalmatians pull people from fires, beagles sniff out bombs and now llamas fight COVID-19. 

Last April, researchers from the Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology in Ghent (VIB) found antibodies in llama blood they believed could help neutralize the global pandemic bringing our world to its knees. Belgium-based ExeVir is now well on its way to turning VIB's research into effective therapeutics against COVID-19 and its variants.   

The 9-month-old-startup today announced a $50 million Series A to take its lead antibody compound XVR011 into a global Phase Ib/II clinical trial soon. This will be the first in-human trials using this unique, llama-derived antibody.  

The antibody, VHH72-Fc, will also be developed by ExeVir into a sub-cutaneous formulation with development into areas beyond COVID-19 infections. 

According to a study done by VIB, the highly contagious and more deadly variants of COVID-19 are neutralized with equal potency as earlier strains observed. This is particularly important as many of the antibody therapeutics already approved for emergency use by the FDA have failed to prove the same level of efficacy against the mutations. 

While vaccine rollouts are commencing globally, vaccine hesitancy is still a very real concern. Without global immunity, the need for effective therapies for those infected continues to be a focus. Even with the vaccines, variants capable of evading immunity, whether via vaccine or prior infection, are always a possibility. 

Scientists believe the VHH72 epitope to be capable of binding to a broad variety of spike proteins across a range of coronaviruses. ExeVir expects its XVR011 compound to be effective against all variants of this family of viruses, including those that haven’t yet crossed the species-barrier but are known to be circulating in bats.  

ExeVir’s technology platform for single domain antibody development was developed by VIB scientists Professors Xavier Saelens and Nico Callewaert, both of whom are scientific founders and research collaborators with the company.  

Callewaert stated in a press release, “The cross-disciplinary work at the VIB, ExeVir, UCB, the Rega institute and our many collaborators have enabled rapid progress and firmly established the ground for clinical development of XVR011 for potential treatment and prevention of Covid-19. With manufacturing and formulation support from UCB, a highly regarded leading pharmaceutical development organization, we are excited to be ready to start clinical testing of XVR011 imminently. XVR011 is the first European broadly neutralizing antibody based Covid-19 therapeutic approach with best-in-class potential to meet the current and future challenges posed by the spillover of coronaviruses into humans”. 

NIH researchers have also isolated promising antibodies from a llama named Cormac. Their study also found one of the antibodies, NIH-CoVnb-112, could prevent COVID-19 infections both in liquid and aerosol form. Additionally, research done by the U.K.’s Rosalind Franklin Institute proved nanobodies derived from llamas are effective against SARS-CoV-2 spike in the lab. If pandemics had a mascot, the llama seems to be the most appropriate choice. 

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