Shelton Firm Working On COVID-19 Drug
CT Post, April 2, 2020
By Kaitlyn Krassett
NanoViricides Inc., a company that has developed drugs to fight such viruses as Ebola and HIV, expects to have an effective experimental COVID-19 coronavirus treatment ready for patients diagnosed with the disease in as little as six weeks.
The potential treatment — which imitates antibodies to fight off the virus after a person is already infected — would be used in conjunction with other potential treatments already being tested.
“In layman’s terms, we have developed a Venus fly trap for viruses,” said Anil R. Diwan, president and chairman of NanoViricides, on a tour Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “Just like a fly is attracted to the Venus fly trap flower and goes inside and the flower closes on it, our material, the virus is attracted to it, and once it binds, it spills literally onto the virus and closes onto it.”
The company is counting on federal funding to create, test, produce and distribute the drug. NanoViricides has applied for funding already authorized by the federal government for the development of treatments and vaccines, but so far the company has made no headway.
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, declined NanoViricides’ request for a meeting, said Meeta Vyas, chief financial officer for NanoViricides. That would be the next step to secure federal funding.
Federal government estimates say millions will get the illness and between 100,000 and 200,000 could die, though expert forecasts vary widely. “The only way to reduce the death rate of those already infected is with treatment, not a vaccine,” Vyas said. “Ours is the only company in Connecticut working on a treatment.”
There are at least 75 companies, including NanoViricides, working to develop treatment for COVID-19, according to data compiled by the Milken Institute. Another 47 companies are working to develop a vaccine for the virus.
Diwan said the company will move forward with testing and development of the anti-viral treatment regardless, but the timeline and production of the drug would be aided by additional funding. “We will continue to do what we are able to do with our limited resources,” Diwan said.
Blumenthal promised he would do what he could through his staff in Washington D.C. to help NanoViricides secure meetings and possibly federal funding.
“We are racing against time and against a virus that has its own timeline and we need to be moving as quickly as possible for a therapeutic treatment and cure,” Blumenthal said. “Every avenue ought to be explored.”
Federal funding back to top
The federal funding agency, known as BARDA, gave a contract believed to be worth several million dollars to Protein Sciences, a Meriden-based division of the global drug giant Sanofi, for a vaccine. Protein Sciences, acquired by Sanofi in 2017, has had several previous BARDA contracts and makes the only flu vaccine derived from cellular genetics.
NanoViricides is a publicly traded company with a tiny market capitalization of $42.5 million, founded in 2005. Shares closed at $2.51 per share at the end of 2019, then spiked to $16.76 on January 31. The price has settled back down to a close of $5.74 Tuesday.
As of August 15, 2019, the company had 17 employees, including those at an affiliated company, according to the company’s annual report.
The coronavirus attaches to certain receptor cells inside the body, which is how people become infected. The drug NanoViricides is devloping imitates those receptor cells, essentially tricking the virus into attaching to the drug instead of the body, Diwan explained.
Though scientists at NanoViricides are unable to test the virus against the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus, Diwan said they can use other strains of coronavirus that attach to the same type of receptor cells as COVID-19. As a result, scientists at the company have been able to test the drug against other strains and have seen it be effective in killing the virus.
“As you know, all viruses mutate, so the beauty of this technology is that no matter how the virus mutates, it always lands on the same receptor,” Vyas said. “The treatment works even when the virus mutates because the receptor cell does not vary and we can copy the receptor site.”
The next phase of development will include animal testing over the next four to six weeks. If that is effective, Diwan said the drug could be distributed to patients on an experimental basis in six to eight weeks. One batch of the drug could treat 1,000 patients he said, though more severe patients could require more in order to effectively fight the virus.
“We are developing something like antibodies,” Diwan said. “It is a mixed advance in immunotherapies. In terms of other drugs other than antibodies, our technology is complementary to other drugs that work inside cells. So the two together hopefully will be an even bigger bang against the virus than one alone.”