The Serum Institute of India on Thursday said it has entered into an agreement with German pharmaceutical giant Merck and New York-based non-profit health research organisation IAVI to develop a treatment for people infected by the coronavirus.
The three partners say they aim to develop SARS-CoV-2 neutralising monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that could help keep people healthy after they have been infected with the novel coronavirus in an approach that is separate from the research into vaccines.
Monoclonal antibody drugs enlist the natural immune system functions to fight a disease with laboratory-produced molecules engineered to substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance or mimic the body's own defence system against a disease.
The consortium said they want leverages each partner's significant expertise, geographic footprint, and infrastructure to develop the treatment and ensure equitable global access, especially in low- and middle-income countries where these therapies have been out of reach.
"The agreement builds on the advanced antibody discovery and optimization expertise of IAVI and Scripps Research, gained from years of experience in HIV broadly neutralizing antibody research and development, and on Merck's and Serum Institute's significant capabilities in design and scale up of accelerated manufacturing processes for mAb production," the group said.
"If the highly potent and broadly cross-reactive SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibody candidates being advanced through this partnership are shown to be efficacious in clinical trials, either as a single antibody or a potential combination of both candidates, Merck will lead commercialization in developed countries," it said.
"Serum Institute has a proven track record of more than 50 years in developing affordable medicines and is the world's largest producer of vaccines. Serum Institute will lead global manufacturing as well as commercialization in low- and middle-low-income countries, including India," it added.
The promise for the treatment comes as India confronts a possible surge in COVID-19 cases after ongoing festivals that end mid-November. The country has reported a total of over 77 lakh cases, behind only the United States.
It also coincides with reports about the government's plans of setting aside about Rs 50,000 crore for vaccines with the central government estimates an all-in cost of about Rs 500 per person for the shot, according to Bloomberg.