COMMENT: BerGenBio’s bemcentinib selected for fast track as potential treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19)
Rob Andrews is a Partner and Patent Attorney in the renowned Life Sciences team at European IP firm Mewburn Ellis, where he has advised Norwegian-British biopharmaceutical company BerGenBio for nearly ten years.
In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, bemcentinib, produced by BerGenBio has today (Wed 29 April) been announced by the UK Government as a first candidate in a first wave of new and existing medicines to be tested through the Accelerating COVID-19 Research & Development: Phase 2 platform (ACCORD-2) study.
Read the full BerGenBio press release here.
ROB ANDREWS COMMENTS:
On the effects of bemcentinib
“Bemcentinib is a drug that prevents cells in your body from completing certain processes, or slows those processes down. Many of the processes affected by bemcentinib involve changes in the shape of cells, or other movements involving outer layer of the cell.
“Most of the processes affected by bemcentinib are not vitally important in healthy adults but are important for the progression of certain diseases. For example, bemcentinib has been shown to be useful in the treatment of several types of cancer. Therefore, by giving bemcentinib to people it is possible to slow down or stop the progression of the disease without damaging healthy cells, so minimizing unwanted side effects.
On why it could be an important development in the fight against Covid-19
“To date, most of the testing of bemcentinib has been for the treatment of cancer. However, the process by which a virus infects a cell also involves movements in the outer layer of the cell as the virus attacks. BerGenBio therefore decided to test if bemcentinib was able to prevent or slow down the infection of cells by coronaviruses, the group of viruses that includes Sars-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
“Interestingly, BerGenBio found in their preliminary testing that bemcentinib was able to reduce the ability of a coronavirus to infect cells. This suggests that bemcentinib could be used to treat COVID-19 either by preventing people from being infected by the virus in the first place or be reducing the severity of disease in people who are already infected.
On where this news sits in relation to the UK’s overall response to C-19
“Social distancing and lockdown conditions are putting significant strain on the UK economy. The UK government is therefore seeking alternative ways to reduce the infection rate and/or the burden placed on the NHS by each case of COVID-19. If one or more suitable way could be found, it would allow the lockdown and social distancing rules to be relaxed without causing an unacceptable increase in the COVID-19 death rate.
“One possible way to reduce the infection rate and/or the burden placed on the NHS by each case of COVID-19 is to identify a drug that can treat the disease. The ultimate treatment would be a vaccine, of which several are under development, but whose future availability cannot be relied on. A vaccine would also not help people who catch COVID-19 before they are vaccinated. Therefore, the UK government is looking for other drugs which might be effective against COVID-19; this is the aim of the ACCORD-2 program.
“The first wave of the ACCORD-2 program has selected several known drugs which may be effective against COVID-19 and which have already been shown to be safe to give to people. This means it will be possible to rapidly test these drugs for effectiveness against COVID-19. Bemcentinib is one of the selected drugs.
On key intellectual property factors
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented international demand for access to tools that can slow the spread of the virus. As such, there is likely to be huge pressure on any applicant or patentee who owns monopoly rights over those tools to waive those rights in the name of public health. Resisting such pressure risks significant reputational damage to the right holder and may in any case be futile if governments resort to compulsory licencing orders.
“The extreme public health demand and current affairs spotlight on this issue means that innovators in this area have particularly complex and unusual set of factors to consider when developing their IP strategy.