Emergent BioSolutions gets $14.5M in federal funding to expedite COVID-19 plasma therapy development

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Last week, we spoke to the head of Emergent BioSolutions’ Therapeutics Business Unit Dr. Laura Saward about her company’s work developing plasma-based potential treatments for COVID-19. Now, the company announced that it has received $14.5 million in funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to speed the development of one of its treatment candidates.

Emergent BioSolutions has been working to develop two different kinds of plasma-based treatments for use in treating patients who have already contracted the coronavirus and subsequently the COVID-19 respiratory disease that it leads to. The company is developing one treatment based on horse-derived plasma, which has benefits in terms of being able to be produced in large volumes, and human-derived plasma, which is less likely to trigger a negative immune response in patients.

In both cases, the strategy is based on the concept of using convalescent plasma as a way to develop “hyperimmune” treatment products that can boost the immune response of a target patient. It’s similar to other potential uses of convalescent plasma being investigated by researchers and health organizations, but unlike a direct transfusion approach, Emergent is looking to essentially stack the deck by creating a plasma-based solution that contains many different kinds of antibodies to fight off the virus, in set amounts to produce predictably effective results.

The pharmatech company had already been working to develop both these solutions, and was working to expedite their development, validation and testing by leveraging prior experience bringing similar treatments to market. Now, however, it’s getting an additional $14.5 million from BARDA, which is earmarked specifically for accelerating the development of the human-plasma based program. The plan is to develop it using donations from patients who have already recovered from COVID-19, and already the company has begun screening and collection efforts to get that donated blood.

Next, Emergent BioSolutions’ test candidate will be included in a clinical study with the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, which the agency is preparing for the purposes of assessing potential treatments.