Firms across the healthcare sector are working day and night to develop the first approved treatment for patients with Covid-19 — and, in the UK, BerGenBio looks to be a leading name in this particular race.
At the end of April, the Norwegian biotech company had its daily oral drug bemcentinib fast-tracked towards Phase II clinical trials by the government-funded ACCORD (Accelerating Covid-19 Research & Development platform) study.
We take a closer look at the work BerGenBio has done to become one of the firms at the forefront of the UK’s hunt for an effective virus treatment.
The ACCORD study
The ACCORD study is a platform being used to trial the safety and efficacy of multiple Covid-19 treatment candidates.
The study is taking place across multiple UK testing centres and aims to accelerate several potential drugs through early-stage, randomised clinical trials, before the most promising ones advance to more large-scale studies such as the RECOVERY trial.
Funding for the study is being provided by the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) — a non-governmental national funding agency for scientific research.
The clinical trial platform being used was provided by US-based health research company IQVIA, with the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) also providing relevant expertise.
Bemcentinib is the first of six potential Covid-19 treatments being entered into the ACCORD study, and testing involving 120 participants — including 60 hospitalised coronavirus patients and 60 control group patients receiving standard of care treatment — has already started across six NHS hospital trusts in the UK.
What is Bemcentilib?
Bemcentilib binds to AXL receptor tyrosine kinase — an enzyme that has been linked to some aggressive types of cancer, as well as drug resistance and immune evasion — in the body, reducing its activity.
Because of this, it was initially produced as a monotherapy drug for metastatic cancers and is currently undergoing Phase II clinical trials to treat solid and haematological tumours.
BerGenBio says that, to date, Bemcentilib has proven to be safe and well-tolerated in hundreds of patients, and, in many cases, has been taken daily for several years.
Due to its ability to enhance the body’s response to an infection, the once-a-day small molecule drug is now being considered a viable candidate in treating SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
BerGenBio claims the drug has already exhibited potent antiviral activity in preclinical models against enveloped viruses such as Ebola and the Zika virus — with more recent data suggesting it could prevent, or at least slow, coronavirus infections.
If positive results are seen during the ACCORD study, bemcentinib will reportedly advance quickly into the large-scale Phase III trials that are currently underway across the UK.
BerGenBio leading the fight against Covid-19
BerGenBio — which was founded in 2008, and describes itself as a “world leader” in treating aggressive cancers with AXL inhibitors — has anticipated that the most relevant “top line” data from trialling bemcentinib will be available within a matter of months.
Following the announcement on 28 April that the drug had been fast-tracked to Phase II clinical trials in the UK, BerGenBio CEO Richard Godfrey said: “We are delighted to be part of this initiative which is a ground-breaking partnership between government, academia and industry.
“We are hopeful that bemcentinib can play a significant role in the global effort to find suitable treatment options for Covid-19 patients, which has had such serious implications for so many people and thereby ease pressures on hospital intensive care units, and ultimately treat thousands of patients.
“We are poised to commence dosing in the coming days and will provide results as soon as is practically possible.”
Earlier this month, BerGenBio also announced it had raised €45.4m ($49.1m) via an oversubscribed private placement, which it intends to put towards expanding clinical development of its AXL drug candidates — which includes bemcentinib.
Norway-based investors Arctic Securities and DNB Markets, and Swedish investment bank Carnegie led the transaction.