Biotechnology leads the fight against new coronavirus

The National Center for Biotechnology-CSIC, the Carlos III Health Institute and the Biomedical Research Institute (IRB Barcelona), are three of the eight Spanish research centers that participate in projects funded by the EU against the coronavirus.

La biotecnología lidera la lucha frente el coronavirus

Since alarms were raised against the threat of the new coronavirus in December 2019 in Wuhan (China), the Spanish biotech community has been increasing its efforts to study the virus and develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, which help protect people against the virus. SARS-CoV-2.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 96,2 million cases have been confirmed around the world, and the numbers are increasing. For more than two decades, the biotechnology industry has developed innovative solutions to protect people from infectious diseases such as Ebola, bird flu, tuberculosis or HIV.

AseBio members are working, in collaboration with international authorities such as the WHO, national governments and philanthropic institutions, to find biotechnological solutions to the health emergency caused by SARS-CoV-2.

In 2021, with the arrival of the first vaccines, the Spanish biotech companies are contributing with their manufacturing capabilities to fight the global pandemic. The American company Novavax has selected the biopharmaceutical company from Galicia and AseBio member, Zendal, for the industrial production of the antigen of its vaccine, currently under development. And just this week, AstraZeneca has announced that one of the first vaccines launched into the market, developed by our member AstraZeneca in the UK, will be manufactured by Insud Pharma in the Azuqueca de Henares factory, in Spain.

In the area of treatments, Grifols (Barcelona) will launch in February a phase III trial for its treatment with Gamunex®-C immunoglobin and antibodies obtained from plasma donors who have overcome the disease. If successful, the therapy would provide immediate immunity against Covid-19. Pharmamar (Madrid), just finished the phase II study for Aplidin for the treatment of covid-19. With phase III about to begin and with promisiong results, if approved the treatment could be available by September 2021.

2020, a year in review

AseBio also includes among its members 3 of the 8 Spanish research centres selected by the European Commission to research and develop new vaccines, rapid diagnostics tests, new treatments and monitoring to effectively prevent and control the spread of the virus. These institutions are The National Center for Biotechnology-CSIC, the Carlos III Health Institute and the Biomedical Research Institute (IRB Barcelona).

Scientists from the Respiratory Virus Laboratory of the National Microbiology Center (CNM) of the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) have carried out the complete sequencing of the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus thanks to the use of respiratory samples from patients from different geographic areas Spain.

Biopharmaceutical companies such as GSK are collaborating on different projects for the development of vaccines. One of them with the Coalition for Innovations in Preparedness for Epidemics (CEPI), a public-private philanthropic organization that aims to respond to health emergencies by accelerating the development of vaccines. In addition, through the agreement with CEPI, they also provide access to their adjuvant technology to the University of Queensland, Australia, who is investigating for the rapid production of vaccines against multiple viral pathogens. On the other hand, GSK has announced a collaboration with Clover Biopharmaceuticals, a global biotechnology company based in China, focused on the development of novel and transformative biological therapies to whom GSK will also facilitate its adjuvant technology platform to support the development process of your coronavirus vaccine candidate.

Palobiofarma, a Spanish biotech company based in Pamplona (Navarra, Spain) is developing a research project on COVID-19, specifically focused on the search for new drugs such as inhibitors of the ACE2 enzyme, which is the protein responsible for the binding of the virus to lung cells.

The effort of our members also improves the diagnosis of COVID-19.  Canvax Biotech (Cordoba, Spain) has developed a kit for the detection and quantification of coronavirus. This company was one of the pioneers in Spain to launch a kit that is already sold worldwide.  Genómica (Madrid, Spain), from the PharmaMar Group, has developed and commercialized two kits for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2.

Another of our company members that is working on the diagnosis of COVID-19 is Imereti, who have the objective of reducing the burden of the microbiology and genetics laboratories of public and private hospitals, offering part of their laboratory equipment to carry out diagnostic tests intended for the qualitative detection of SARS-CoV-2 in nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swab samples from patients who meet the clinical and / or epidemiological criteria of the Covid-19 test.

Regarding treatments, Gilead is working together with global and national health authorities to find a response to those affected by COVID-19 through the use of Remdesivir. This product has shown in vivo and in vitro activity against SARS and MERS, which are caused by other coronaviruses with similar structures to COVID-19. AbbVie is also working with the World Health Organization and global health authorities to respond with treatments to the needs of patients affected by COVID-19.

Ingenasa, based in Madrid, is developing recombinant proteins of the virus and mono & polyclonal antibodies, which will be used to develop rapid diagnostic tests (immunochromatography) and ELISAs that allow the identification of antibodies against the virus in samples of serum / blood / other patient fluids. In a second phase, tests that allow the direct detection of viral antigens will also be set up.

For its part, Grifols has announced that, together with its Chinese partner Shanghai RAAS, it is accelerating the development of analysis and diagnostic methods for the detection of coronavirus and is collaborating with international health authorities to develop a potential antiviral treatment with immunoglobulins by sharing your experience with convalescent plasma (plasma with antibodies against the virus). Incluir lo del ensayo clinic nuevo.
Laboratorios Rubió (Madrid) announced last year its collaboration in a pioneering clinical trial to reduce the transmission and, consequently, the incidence of COVID-19, providing resources for the development of research and supplying one of the drugs used in the study, Dolquine, whose principle active is hydroxychloroquine.
There are other lines of research from biotechnology such as those aimed at improving the immune system with probiotic strains, as does our partner Biosearch Life, a company based in Granada.

For its part, IQS (Barcelona) developed an inhibitor of the polymerase NS5B of the hepatitis C virus, with an EC50 similar to that reported for Sofosbuvir (a drug currently marketed for the treatment of this disease). The application of molecular modeling methods has allowed GQF-IQS researchers to evaluate whether the compound with antiviral activity against hepatitis C could interact with the Mpro of COVID-19 (the structure of which has recently been reported in the Protein Data Bank, ID: 6LU7). The results obtained so far suggest that the compound could interact with the active center of this protein and block its activity.

Leitat (Terrassa) developed the first field mechanical respirator manufactured by industrial 3D printing. The Eurecat Technology Center also facilitated the testing of the masks that were produced to make up for the lack of this sanitary material against the coronavirus, as well as the components necessary for their manufacture, by validating their efficiency at the filtration level bacterial, breathability and microbial cleaning.

The La Fe Health Research Institute, together with La Fe Hospital and La Fe Biobank (Valencia), have created a powerful repository of biological material for the fight against COVID-19. Another research institute based in Valencia, AINIA, is carrying out studies of virucidal efficacy of substances; obtaining natural compounds with virucidal potential; in addition to collaborating with the administration and other R&D centers in the synthesis of medicines.

MSD created a scientific team to evaluate the antiviral candidates and vaccines available in the company to verify their potential activity against SARS-coV-2 and related viruses. In addition, and with the aim of accelerating the development, production and distribution of vaccines, diagnostic tests and treatments against the coronavirus. Furthermore, MSD joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the consortium of life sciences companies that are working to find therapeutic and preventive responses to COVID-19.

Archivel Farma (Badalona) begun a clinical trial with a vaccine to increase the immunity of healthcare professionals exposed to the risk of COVID-19. RUTI vaccine is administered by subcutaneous injection, is safe, and is in advanced clinical stages in India and Ukraine for the treatment of tuberculosis and antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, as well as an enhancer of the anticancer response in bladder cancer patients.

Roche included the first Spanish patients in the first large-scale clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the drug tocilizumab (a monoclonal antibody that blocks the IL-6 signaling pathway and approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and cytokine release syndrome induced by CAR-T therapy) in hospitalized adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.

Nostrum Biodiscovery (Barcelona) are focusing their efforts on the search for inhibitors of the 3C protease of the virus, with a key role in its replication. They perform virtual analysis of libraries of millions of public and exclusive compounds in their databases, using the combination of one of the most powerful molecular coupling algorithms on the market together with their Monte Carlo PELE algorithm.

SOM Biotech announced the in vitro validation of three drug candidates as new therapies for the treatment of COVID-19. All three candidates are drugs that inhibit the major SARS-CoV-2 protease and thus virus replication. Clinical studies with all three candidates begun last year. The biotech company has identified the 3CL protease inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV viruses as potential candidates to treat COVID-19, using its technology based on artificial intelligence (SOMAIPRO).

Atrys Health (Madrid & Barcelona) is collaborating through their Big / Smart data Department with three Spanish autonomous communities, to advise them on the prediction and impact of COVID-19 in each of them. On the other hand, Atrys laboratories, specialized in precision oncological diagnosis, carried out a rapid redirection of their resources to adapt to the circumstances and allow carrying out COVID-19 tests, both PCR and immunization. Finally, one of the company's R&D lines is working on the development of a new rapid diagnostic kit for immunization against Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in patients diagnosed or suspected of COVID-19.

Merck launched a study to identify assets that could be reused to deal with the symptoms of Covid-19 infection. In addition, its factories and Life Science division worked tirelessly to supply some of the most important research centers in the country with a series of Merck chemical compounds necessary and essential for the synthesis of 2-Hydroxychloroquine as an experimental treatment for the Covid-19. They are also working with oligos, synthetic pieces of DNA that are used in many protocols within a research laboratory and are key to the detection of certain diseases such as COVID-19.

For its part, Novartis made its oncohematological drug ruxolitinib available to the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) to treat patients with severe pneumonia due to COVID-19 who are experiencing cytokine storm, a type of severe immune hyperactivation that can lead to life-threatening respiratory complications. Ruxolitinib is a well established JAK inhibitor that reduces the levels of inflammatory cytokines in patients with hematological conditions such as myelofibrosis. Preclinical evidence indicates that ruxolitinib, by acting on the cytokine storm, could reduce the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care and mechanical ventilation.

The Spanish biotech companies, which have a dozen or so registered drugs in their pipeline and more than 200 in different stages of development, have solid capabilities in drug discovery, development and production that were put at the service of the health authorities and contributed to fight the pandemic during 2020.

Contact information

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Agathe Cortes
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