Winnipeg biotech company closes in on coronavirus treatment

A Winnipeg biotech company has teamed with two American pharmaceutical companies to develop treatments for a solution to coronavirus.

Emergent Biosolutions, a company out of Winnipeg is in partnership with two American pharmaceutical companies. They are working together to develop experimental treatments for a solution to the CODIVD-19 coronavirus.

Emergent has partnered up with clinical-stage vaccine company Novavax and biotech company Vaxart in with the hope to develop two oral vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Global News.

“We started right away, looking across our different platforms for how we could have an impact, and of course everyone is doing this quickly,” said Dr. Laura Saward, vice president of therapeutics. “We looked at some of our proven technologies – platforms that have supported several licensed drugs, and we put those to work on coronavirus.”

What separates their research from many other companies at this time, Saward explained, is that they are focused on therapeutics for those who have already contracted COVID-19 as opposed vaccine that would make someone immune.

“When you use a vaccine, you’re developing antibodies over time. This is a way to give someone a dose of these antibodies right away, and that would help to remove the infection or the virus from their system,” Saward says.

“It’s an approach we’ve used with many other infectious diseases where you isolate these antibodies from plasma sources. There’s hundreds of years of research behind this type of approach. It does take some of the risk out, and our focus is on going as fast as possible.”

Epidemiologist Dr. Cynthia Carr said that we could still be a long way from a vaccine and that we might not get one at all. There hasn't previously been a vaccine for any of the seven strains of the coronavirus that have come previously affected the population, so the idea of developing a treatment for it is equally important.

“We don’t know if someone would become more ill [in the future], but we hope it follows the typical pattern where our immune system is a little bit educated about the virus and you are a little less ill the next time,” said Dr. Carr.

As the spread of COVID-19 intensifies, public anxiety is at an all time high. Researchers, doctors, scientists, and lawmakers are scrambling for answers to the global pandemic. Dr. Saward said that her group is making great progress.

“Because we’re using these proven technologies," Dr. Saward said, "we have a high degree of confidence in the safety [of our product] and we’ll be able to get in the clinic very quickly to evaluate its efficacy."

Saward hopes that if their progress continues, a solution to coronavirus could come faster than people realize.

“We will work with regulators to ensure we’re doing this in a way that’s safe — but our target is to get in the clinic by the end of summer. We will be manufacturing at our Winnipeg site by the beginning of summer.”