Confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus are now over 2.5 million worldwide and more than 1.7 lakh people, (source: WHO, 24 April 2020) are known to have died from the virus at the time of writing.
Speaking on the outbreak, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that COVID-19 pandemic will be amid people for some time to come. WHO officials advised that all nations would need to continue to grapple with a “new normal” to fight COVID-19 and to guard against complacency.
With a significant production hub crippled in many countries to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the spotlight on pharma's emerging markets suppliers is likely shine even brighter than before.
In Australia drug companies’ space, universities along with some research institution looking for a Covid-19 treatment are turning to previously available molecules that are either out of production or those on which development work halted due to lack of commercial viability.
Researchers of Australia are at the forefront in the battle to developing vaccine/treatment for COVID-19, with the peak science body of the nation, the most valuable healthcare and biotech companies, universities and businesses of the country are taking up arms against the virus.
In Australia, the public and private industry, CSIRO scientists, the University of Queensland (UQ) including healthcare companies like- Cynata Limited (ASX:CYP), Mesoblast Limited (ASX:MSB), Vaxine and Starpharma Holdings Limited (ASX:SPL) are working against the clock to develop vaccines/treatments in record time to save the lives of the critically ill COVID-19 patients and put an end to the ongoing turmoil.
Let us dig deeper-
Scientist in Australia to trial BCG vaccine for Covid-19
At the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute researchers are set to conduct a randomised, multi-centre clinical study to test the use of BCG vaccine (tuberculosis vaccine) against the coronavirus infection. The BRACE trial is intended to protect healthcare workers against COVID-19. This trial is based on the former study conclusions that BCG lessens the virus level in patients infected by viruses that are similar to SARS-CoV-2.
The controlled trial is anticipated to enroll nearly 4k healthcare workers at Australian hospitals, including the Campus’ Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. BCG would be evaluated for its capability to alleviate the occurrence, as well as severity of signs of COVID-19.
Head Lice Drug- Ivermectin Kills Novel Coronavirus
According to the Australian researchers, a head lice medication has effectively killed the novel coronavirus in forty-eight hours in a lab setting. The study for head lice drug was conducted by researchers from the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia, and Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) has found the Ivermectin (a head lice drug) could potentially be used after further research and human clinical trials as a possible treatment for the coronavirus infection.
For testing the researchers contaminated several cells with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, and then exposed them to Ivermectin. Consequently, they discovered that with a single dose of Ivermectin had successfully destroyed the virus.
Plasma, stem cells and other therapies
While CSIRO, Vaxine and University of Queensland (UQ) are focused on producing a vaccine, local blood products giant CSL has set out a vision of using the antibodies in the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients to treat the critically ill.
Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), has begun the first stage of testing potential vaccines for COVID-19 at its high-containment biosecurity facility, the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria.
In January, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations CEPI requested UQ to utilise its quick response vaccine technology for developing a vaccine, and the candidate was produced just in the first 3-weeks. The vaccine was developed using the molecular clamp technology of University of Queensland that lock up the spike protein into a form which permits the immune system to identification followed by neutralisation of the virus. On preclinical studies, the UQ team will collaborate with the Dutch company and Viroclinics Xplore.
In South Australia, scientists are working with the vaccine technology, which is developed by Australian biotechnology company Vaxine Pty Ltd, and they are investigating a vaccine against the coronavirus. The vaccine made by Vaxine Pty Ltd has moved into animal experiment phase in the United States, and after confirmation of its efficacy and safety, it will be further examined into human clinical trials.
Stem Cell Treatments Cleared for Trials
Two Australian based stem cell ASX-listed healthcare players are engaged in testing their stem cell therapies in COVID-19 associated ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) patients.
Australian stem cell therapy company Mesoblast Limited (ASX:MSB) is assessing its allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell (MSCs) therapy remestemcel-L in patients having COVID-19 induced ARDS in Australia, the US, Europe and China.
On 24 April 2020, Mesoblast revealed results from its clinical study and post announcement share price of the Company climbed sharply. The Company reported positive outcomes from its clinical trial of remestemcel-L and reported that 10 out of 12 (83%) survival in ventilator-dependent COVID-19 patients and 75% (9 out of 12) of the patients were able to come off from ventilator support within a median of ten days,
MSB shares last traded, zooming up by 38.931% to the price of $2.730 on 24 April 2020, with a market capitalisation of nearly $1.06 billion.
TO KNOW MORE, DO READ: Mesoblast partners with the CTSN to Conduct Human trials of Remestemcel-L
ASX-listed Stem cell and regenerative medicine development company Cynata Therapeutics Limited (ASX:CYP) is also studying the utility of its CymerusTM mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) as a treatment for ARDS associated with COVID-19 with the Critical Care Research Group at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.
On 24 April 2020, Cynata released its quarterly report and Appendix 4C for the quarter ended 31 March 2020, some of the pointers from the same are as follows:
On quarterly activities front-
- During the period, Cynata received grant for Canadian Patent and Notices of Allowance received from Israel and Japan to bolster the patent protection of Cynata’s Cymerus™ MSC technology.
- More development took place on 3 planned Stage 2 clinical trial programs for Osteoarthritis, Critical limb ischaemia and GvHD or Graft-versus-host disease.
- The Company has broad pre-clinical pipeline with ARDS pre-clinical study in the last stages of completion.
On the cash flow front- The Company highlighted that it remains in a robust financial position with nearly $6.9 million in cash as of 31 March 2020. Additionally, approximately $3.55 million had been raised via an institutional Placement subsequent to the quarter, and an SPP to build up to $2 million.
CYP shares fell by 5.714% to $0.660 on 24 April 2020, with a market capitalisation of nearly $72.11 million.
SPL7013 Shows Significant Activity Against COVID-19
ASX-listed health care company Starpharma Holdings Limited (ASX:SPL) is a global leader in the development of dendrimer based formulations for therapeutic applications.
The proprietary VivaGel® active (SPL7013) of Starpharma, has demonstrated to have substantial antiviral activity in lab tests against the COVID-19 causing SARS-CoV-2.
SPL7013 or VivaGel® active inhibited the infection of cells with the coronavirus and the outcomes from the study were authenticated by replicate testing in contradiction of a positive control compound, remdesivir, which is considered to be a significant drug for the treatment of coronavirus infection.
The antiviral activity testing of SPL7013 against coronavirus was conducted under the contract by Melbourne based 360 Biolabs, which has developed assays to test SARS-CoV-2 and for providing support for antiviral research and development. Moreover, SPL7013 is one of the first agents that showed significant activity against the coronavirus tested by 360 Biolabs.
On 24 April 2020, SPL stock climbed by 2.174% to close the day’s trade at 0.940, with a market capitalisation of nearly $342.76 million.
There is no investor left unperturbed with the ongoing trade conflicts between US-China and the devastating bushfire in Australia.
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