German pharma company Merck KGaA has partnered with non-profit scientific research organisation IAVI and Serum Institute of India to develop monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) for COVID-19.

The agreement will involve developing SARS-CoV-2 – the virus which causes COVID-19 – neutralising mAbs co-invented by IAVI and Scripps Research to address the pandemic.

If the mAbs advanced in the partnership are found to be effective in clinical trials, either as a single antibody or a potential combination of both candidates, Merck KGaA will lead commercialisation in developed countries.

Serum Institute will lead global manufacturing as well as commercialisation in low- and middle-low-income countries, including India.

Scientists based at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center (NAC) based at Scripps Research, were part of a team that identified antibodies from the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients that are capable of neutralising SARS-CoV-2.

The portfolio of mAbs discovered by the research team and their partners provides the foundation for a programme with potential application to COVID-19 treatment and prevention.

Under IAVI’s agreement with Merck KGaA and Serum Institute, an accelerated programme of preclinical and clinical research will be conducted to evaluate the antibodies for treatment of COVID-19.

A phase I clinical trial is expected to begin in early 2021, with further development set to be scaled-up rapidly if the treatments prove effective in initial testing.

“We’re acutely aware of the tremendous potential for monoclonal antibodies to be used in COVID-19 response,” said Mark Feinberg, president and chief executive officer of IAVI.

By combining the scientific achievements of IAVI and Scripps Research with our partners’ development, manufacturing, and distribution expertise, we are hopeful that this partnership will result in globally accessible antibodies that are available to all who can benefit from them.”

“Together with IAVI and Serum Institute, we look forward to demonstrating the potential application of these monoclonal antibodies in the management of COVID-19. We share a common purpose to accelerate this promising science and deliver effective solutions that address global challenges presented by this pandemic,” said Belén Garijo, vice chair of the executive board and deputy CEO, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, as well as CEO Healthcare.

“Given the breadth and scale of our technology and our long-standing devotion to improving health especially in low-income countries, I am confident that we and our partners are on a productive path that will lead to a much-needed, globally available tool for COVID-19 treatment and possibly prevention,” said Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute.