Encouraging progress of COVID-19 solutions from Switzerland

Several Swiss companies working on next-generation vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 announced important achievements recently. Companies include RocketVax, ACM Bioscience, Molecular Partners, Polyphor and Altamira Medica.

CHF 1 million for a next-generation vaccine
The University Hospital Basel (USB), the University of Basel and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) are entering into a research collaboration with the startup company RocketVax. The goal is to develop a next-generation vaccine against Covid-19. Unlike most existing vaccines, the new model is designed to present a large spectrum of viral components to the immune system, eliciting a broader, longer-term stable immune response than most current vaccines, which use only a single viral protein. 

The USB is providing start-up funding of one million Swiss francs to enable the preclinical research work on the new vaccine that has already begun. The University of Basel and Swiss TPH are contributing through research infrastructure and human resources. The canton of Basel-Stadt is also supporting the research collaboration with a contribution of another million Swiss francs from the location development fund.

Innosuisse grant for ACM Biosciences and University Hospital Zurich
ACM Biosciences aims to maximize the potential of mRNA vaccines by developing a novel vaccine carrier system to improve their efficacy, stability, and cost-effectiveness. The proprietary Artificial Cell Membranes (ACMs) from ACM Biosciences are based on an innovative nanotechnology platform using non-immunogenic polymersomes as their stable carrier. In parallel to this project, the company is developing a sub-unit protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate in clinical trials and is conducting an mRNA proof of concept stability and immunogenicity study.

Innosuisse has awarded the company a grant to accelerate the development of this solution. Steve Pascolo, a global expert in mRNA vaccines and group leader at the University Hospital Zurich, and ACM Biosciences will join forces to develop a stable and novel carrier for mRNA with improved properties regarding storage at refrigerator temperature, logistics and flexibility.

Emergency Use Authorization for sotrovimab 
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted GSK  and Vir Biotechnology, Inc. an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for sotrovimab. Sotrovimab is an investigational single-dose monoclonal antibody for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and paediatric patients who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalisation or death. The antibody was developed in Switzerland by Humabs, a company based in Ticino and acquired by Vir Biotechnology in 2017. Treatment with sotrovimab resulted in an 85% reduction in the risk of hospitalisation or death in high-risk adult outpatients compared to placebo, based on interim results from Phase 3 COMET-ICE trial. 

Start of Phase III trial for Molecular Partners' ensovibep
The new Phase 3 sub-study is designed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of ensovibep for the treatment of COVID-19 positive adults in the hospitalized setting. Ensovibep is an anti-SARS-CoV-2 investigational therapeutic candidate designed to bind the virus’ spike protein on three distinct sites simultaneously to inhibit viral entry into cells and proliferation of the virus. The trial is planned to initially enroll 300 participants who have been hospitalized with mild to moderate COVID-19. Five days after dosing, participants’ clinical status will be assessed, based on need for supplemental oxygen, mechanical ventilation, or other supportive care. Molecular Partners also announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted ensovibep Fast Track designation, which is intended to expedite the development and review of new therapies to treat serious conditions and fill an unmet medical need.

Polyphor presents positive results from preclinical trials
Basel based Polyphor AG (SIX: POLN), committed to discovering and developing best-in-class molecules in oncology and antimicrobial resistance, announced that its CXCR4 antagonist balixafortide demonstrated dual action anti-viral and anti-inflammatory activity in COVID-19 related research studies using clinically relevant concentrations. In a preclinical experiment balixafortide demonstrated strong and robust activity against COVID-19 infection at clinically relevant concentrations with no adverse cytotoxic effects. Based on these strong anti-viral and anti-inflammatory findings, Polyphor is evaluating the feasibility of a Phase II clinical proof of concept study in patients with confirmed COVID-19 infections.

Covid-19 clinical trial with a nasal spray
Altamira Medica, an affiliate of Auris Medical Holding, is developing a nasal spray (Bentrio) for protection against airborne viruses and allergens. In studies in human nasal epithelium cells, Bentrio has shown to be highly effective both in protecting against SARS-CoV-2 when applied before infection onset and in reducing infectiousness when applied afterwards. Altamira Medica has started preparations for the conduct of a study with its Bentrio in India. The study will seek to evaluate the efficacy of Bentrio in the prevention and treatment of acute Covid-19 and shall start recruitment in the third quarter of 2021 subject to regulatory and ethics committee approval.

(RAN / SK)