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Regeneron begins COVID-19 antibody therapy testing

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Regeneron is beginning testing for an antibody cocktail designed as a treatment for the coronavirus. Regeneron President & Chief Scientific Officer Dr. George Yancopoulos joins Yahoo Finance’s Melody Hahm and Anjalee Khemlani to discuss.

Video transcript

MELODY HAHM: We have some exciting news for you. We're joined by Dr. George Yancopoulos, the president, chief scientific officer, and co-founder of Regeneron. And we're also joined by Anjalee Khemlani, our health care reporter, as well, for the conversation.

Dr. Yancopoulos, you had some exciting news over the last couple of days that you've been working on an antibody cocktail. It would be the first in the United States. And if successful, you would be able to launch this in the fall. Can you give us the sort of the details and the timeline of how you first came to this?

GEORGE YANCOPOULOS: Yeah, well, as I think is common knowledge now, the whole point of vaccines that we're all waiting for are to induce an immune response in the body. That means to make antibodies in the body that will fight and beat the virus. Well, years ago, we pioneered an approach to make these very same antibodies-- the best antibodies that are induced by a vaccine to make them outside of the body, purify them, and then give them back to patients, which it's as if they've been vaccinated. But it can also help to treat patients where vaccines can actually work.

So we pioneered this approach for Ebola. and we produced a very effective cocktail. As you know, Ebola is a much more universally lethal disease than coronavirus. And so when the coronavirus pandemic started appearing, we realized that we should take advantage of the same pioneering technology that we had developed and try to make an antibody cocktail against coronavirus.

And that's what we announced this week-- the basic fundamental science that was published in the world's premier journal science that showed that this antibody cocktail that we had come up with looks like it's, perhaps, one of the most powerful ways that you could go forward, not only to beat the virus, but also a way to protect against these viral escape mutants that everybody worries about that mutations can occur and the virus can escape.

So a cocktail, hopefully, there's reason to have hope because it worked for Ebola, which, as I said, is a much more universally lethal disease. But the science now tells us that a cocktail may not only be effective, but may protect against these escape mutants that everybody's worrying about.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: It's Anjalee here. Thanks again for joining us. And I wanted to ask you about this. So we're looking at antibodies as a form of blocking this virus. And you're not alone in looking into it. Of course, there are some competitors out there as well. But looking at what we do know right now and the length of time that the virus has been out there, what can you tell us now? And what should we know about the ability of antibodies to fight this virus because I feel like that's still a question.

GEORGE YANCOPOULOS: Well, I think there's a lot of reason to be hopeful about antibodies. I said as our previous experience with Ebola shows but has mounting evidence with coronavirus shows. But I think there is concern. A lot of other people who are out there are going forward with single antibodies in their efforts.

I think what the scientific papers show that were published in science this week is that going forward with single antibodies may open you up to these viral escape means that could undermine all of these efforts altogether. And that's why putting antibodies together in a cocktail may be a safer and more effective way to go forward.

I think that the data suggests that antibodies will work. But single antibodies no matter how good may not be enough to avoid escape. And we've all lived through this before. You have to remember the early days of HIV. People came up with single drugs. These were traditional drugs, not antibodies. Single drugs, they were very effective. But over time, essentially, massive escape against every single antiviral treatment.

When they put them together into cocktails against HIV, that's what really controlled HIV and turned it from a failed disease to now a chronic disease. And I think that current data actually shows that single antibodies to, though they may be effective in the short term, they raise concerns and that antibody cocktails may be the way to go.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: It definitely seems like that playbook from HIV of a cocktail of treatments as being viewed as the most-- especially after we saw the results from Gilead. But I wanted move forward on one of the issues with Ebola was that the pandemic sort of waned before you could get really far. And that was true of many treatments. So now that we're seeing this resurgence in the US, especially, and the pandemic is really continuing to spread, what does that do for the timeline? Does it help to make sure that you can get to market?

GEORGE YANCOPOULOS: Yeah, well, obviously, if there was no disease, then you couldn't test it. We were lucky we collaborated with the World Health Organization on Ebola. And they were able to actually show in the clinical trials that they actually ran in the Congo that our antibody cocktail was very effective and actually went up head to head against remdesivir and was much more effective them remdesivir, which I think gives us hope here in this situation.

But as you say, if there is, unfortunately, a continuing pandemic, if there are continuing cases, it does make it easier to test. And so as you know, we're going forward and testing. We just initiated our clinical trials last week in several different settings, both preventative settings-- that is in prophylaxis settings-- but also in treating patients and showing that we could actually benefit patients who are already infected.

And the hope is that if all goes well and if there are enough patients, then in a month or two, we may know whether this is really working. And by the end of the summer, there may be enough data to allow the FDA to make a decision to make this more broadly available to all the patients who need it.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: What are the considerations for pricing? I feel like that's a conversation that is a pre-COVID conversation that's coming back into the forest. So what are the considerations that you need to take in to have this both available here and abroad?

GEORGE YANCOPOULOS: Yeah, I can tell you we haven't even thought about this in terms of pricing and so forth. We're just working 24/7 because, you know, we were at the epicenter here in New York City. We have loved ones and friends that we're all affected. And we were just working to try to bring something forward that would make a difference. And we're really hoping that this will make a difference. That said, we're already talking with the government in some way of making this available having the government distributed so we don't even have to worry about pricing it and so forth.

MELODY HAHM: Yeah, and Dr. Yancopoulos, when you think about the kinds of groups that you're actually studying getting more granular in the actual trial itself, what was sort of the waiting list looking like, especially because you were taking on people who do have COVID, and there are some folks who do not have COVID?

GEORGE YANCOPOULOS: Yeah, that's a great question. So we're testing it essentially in three sets of patients. In terms of the patients who are already infected, there's patients who are early in the stages of disease. They're not yet in real severe distress. They're not on ventilators and so forth. So we're doing a trial specifically in those people-- early treatment. We're also doing a separate trial in the late treatment patients-- those who are in severe distress on ventilators.

The data from Ebola really suggests that even in these late patients, there may be significant benefit. But we're also trying it in prophylaxis of prevention-- people who are at high risk of getting infected, but so far are not infected. That's where you would think this would have the highest chance of really being very, very effective.

So separate trials in all these populations hopefully able to show that it can both treat people who are already sick but also very effective at preventing infection for people who are at risk. I think obviously all of those could make a huge difference in the future of this pandemic.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And Dr., quickly and finally, I just wanted to know. You've said before that looking at newer treatments is better than repurposing right now with that resurgence. Does that give more time for more innovation?

GEORGE YANCOPOULOS: Yeah, well, to your point, I mean, I think that this is what the remdesivir shows us. As I said, it was a repurposed drug for Ebola. We went head to head. We were much more effective there. Remdesivir was once again repurposed for coronavirus. It seems to have some modest efficacy. But here once again, we're hoping to be much more effective.

The fact that, unfortunately, the disease is ongoing, there may be a resurgence here will allow us to more quickly enroll patients and get answers sooner rather than later. So sort of good news, bad news. I mean, the fact that there's still disease around will allow us to determine whether this treatment is effective sooner rather than later.

MELODY HAHM: Dr. Yancopoulos of Regeneron, thank you so much for joining us today.

GEORGE YANCOPOULOS: Thank you.

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