The Rockefeller University (Rockefeller) has entered into a licensing agreement with Gilead to advance the development of investigational drugs based on broadly neutralizing antibodies discovered at the university. In recent early-stage research, two of the licensed compounds evidenced success suppressing the virus for months at a time in infected people and could potentially produce new approaches for preventing and treating the disease.
Gilead has obtained the rights to investigate the potential applications in clinical trials and potentially commercialize those that are successful, reports Rockefeller Science News. Gilead is an established leading biopharmaceutical company in the infectious disease therapeutic sector. Jeanne Farrell, Rockefeller’s Associate Vice President for Technology Advancement was a key representative for the university. Gilead acquired the university’s full portfolio HIV antibodies, including two called 3BNC117 currently in clinical development. Under the terms of the agreement, the university retains rights to further investigate the compounds in lab experiments and early-stage clinical trials. Financial Terms were not shared in the university news release.
The New York-based researchers, including Michael C. Nussenzweig as lead and Marina Caskey as associate have been making progress with intellectual property capable of neutralizing antibodies—advancing the understanding of how the specific antibodies function. Nussenzweig’s team has been recognized as discovering a series of broadly neutralizing antibodies in people whose immune systems have a rare ability to fight off the virus. The Rockefeller lab subsequently identified ways to clone these unique molecules thereby making it possible to produce them in the lab and administer them to patients.
Of course, it is still early in the process and professor Nussenzweig notes “it remains to be established how the antibodies interact with the human immune system, but preclinical and clinical studies suggest they might be ‘teaching it’ to go after the virus.” He went on to suggest if this is confirmed this could open a new world of treatments that effectively control HIV by rending immune cells capable of fighting the virus. The longer-term vision: new treatments that aid the body in suppressing the virus long term without the need for taking daily HIV medications.
Years of Work
The Rockefeller University team has been at it developing these discoveries for many years—professor Nussenzweig’s lab represent a hub of early stage innovation. Of course, in addition to Rockefeller, this innovative development received financial support along the way from organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as by the Robertson Therapeutic Development Fund. An important underlying ethos at Rockefeller aligns with the Gates Foundation’s global access policy, which aims to ensure that drugs and other commercialized technologies are delivered at low cost to those needing them the most.
Rockefeller Science News reports several advantages over antiretroviral drugs; for example, they are delivered by injection into a vein, a single injection could neutralize the virus for a long time. Contrary to antiretrovirals which need to be taken daily. In many parts of the world, a daily pill regimen represents a real challenge for adherence. Moreover, the risks go up as if patients miss their daily pill consumption, they run the risk of developing complications and passing risk to their partners and communities—especially in the developing world. This new approach could be superior option to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pill as well, which also requires a daily dose.
Michael C. Nussenzweig, MD, PhD Rockefeller’s Zanvil A. Cohn and Ralph M. Steinman Professor
Marina Caskey, MD, Associate Professor