Rockefeller University Licenses Monoclonal Antibodies for COVID-19 Treatment

Rockefeller monoclonal antibodies are highly potent in blocking the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and neutralizing the coronavirus
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New York City (Coronavirus Today)

With promising results from preclinical studies and with human trials now underway, Rockefeller University announced it had taken the next step with its novel COVID-19 treatment. 

New York-based Rockefeller University entered a licensing agreement on February 3, 2021, with a global pharmaceutical company to advance a treatment based on two monoclonal antibodies discovered at the University, intending to enable affordable, worldwide distribution.

Scientists in Michel C. Nussenzweig’s laboratory discovered potent monoclonal antibodies, which they characterized together with researchers in the labs of Paul Bieniasz and Charles M. Rice at Rockefeller, collaborating with Pamela Bjrokman’s group at Caltech. The antibodies are being used to design a new treatment to prevent people with early stages of COVID-19 from developing severe disease. 

Monoclonal antibody therapies can be life-saving and are urgently needed as hospitals continue to be inundated by repeated surges of infection, and mass vaccinations are still several months away.

“Thanks to the generous volunteers who donated blood plasma and the many researchers bringing their expertise together, we have been able to identify and optimize two potent antibodies that show high potential for preventing or treating COVID-19,” says Nussenzweig, the Zanvil A. Cohn, and Ralph M. Steinman Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at Rockefeller.

Rockefeller’s monoclonal antibodies are highly potent in blocking the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and neutralizing the coronavirus and have been engineered to last longer in the bloodstream than typical antibodies. 

Preclinical data suggest they could effectively neutralize the virus at a low dose, which would enable large patient populations to be treated, possibly via injections instead of blood infusions—advantages that would help expand access to low- and middle-income countries and communities with limited healthcare resources.

Clinical trials to test the treatment’s safety and assess its optimal dosing began at Rockefeller University Hospital in January 2020.

The treatment may also help mobilize the response to new variants of SARS-CoV-2 recently discovered in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil as well as other variants yet to emerge. 

As the two antibodies block the virus in slightly different ways, researchers believe their combination will reduce the virus’s ability to mutate and develop resistance to the therapy. Moreover, recent lab studies show the combination of two antibodies is active against SARS-CoV-2’s concerning mutations and major emerging variants.

Under the agreement, the company, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), has obtained rights to develop, manufacture, and commercialize Rockefeller’s monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19.

“We look forward to continuing to work with The Rockefeller University in this crucial effort,” added Ho Sung Cho, Ph.D., SVP, Discovery Biotherapeutics, BMS, “ We are committed to leveraging our capabilities and resources to expeditiously develop and bring this potential treatment to patients and further address the challenges of the pandemic.”

Learn more about Rockefeller’s broad range of COVID-19 research

Note: Updated content for clarity.

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