A study has shown that two potential anti-COVID-19 drugs developed by the biotechnology firm Molecular Partners in cooperation with Novartis are therapeutically active against the known SARS-CoV-2 mutations, including those that first emerged in the UK and South Africa. Both companies announced the results of the studies, which were carried out at a laboratory located in Spiez in the canton of Bern, into the drug candidates ensovibep (previously known as MP0420) and MP0423 in a press release. Both drug candidates are part of the DARPin therapy program. However, the study did not include any research into the new Brazilian mutation.
According to the study, ensovibep maintained high potency and activity against all of the tested viral variants and mutations. While MP0423 maintained its activity, there were signs of a slight loss in potency against the UK variant. Nevertheless, the effect is still sufficient for therapeutic use.
Molecular Partners brought the Basel-based pharmaceutical firm Novartis on board for the development of MP0420 and MP0423. In October 2020, Novartis entered into an option and license agreement for the development, production and commercialization of the anti-COVID-19 DARPin program of Molecular Partners. Thereafter, Molecular Partners has been tasked with carrying out Phase I clinical trials for MP0420 in addition to all preclinical work for MP0423. Novartis will be responsible for conducting the Phase II and III clinical trials.
According to Patrick Amstutz, CEO of Molecular Partners, these trials are scheduled to begin early in the second quarter of 2021. “At Molecular Partners, we built our antiviral candidates to deal with the issue of viral escape, through targeting multiple sites on the virus at once with a single molecule. As designed, this approach is providing broad efficacy against SARS-CoV-2, even in the presence of emerging mutations, unlike approaches that only target single viral sites”, explains Amstutz further in the press release. The term viral escape is understood to mean the occurrence of escaped viral mutations – in other words, viruses that develop the ability to evade the defense mechanisms of the human immune system.
In the event that the drug candidate receives regulatory approval, the Swiss government has pre-ordered 3.2 million doses of ensovibep. Molecular Partners is a listed biopharmaceutical company headquartered at Bio-Technopark Schlieren-Zurich. It was founded back in 2004 by researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH).