Collaboration to develop stem cell therapies for COVID-19 and future pandemic diseases

Avacta Group plc, the developer of Affimer® biotherapeutics and reagents, has expanded its collaboration and license agreement with Daewoong Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and AffyXell Therapeutics, the joint venture established in South Korea by the two companies, to develop stem cell treatments incorporating Avacta’s neutralising Affimer therapy for the treatment of seriously ill patients with COVID-19 and to also prepare to rapidly develop similar therapies for future global pandemics.

Respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 can cause serious damage to the lungs as a consequence of over-activation of the patient’s immune system, resulting in cytokine release syndrome that can potentially lead to multiple organ failure and death. Stem cell therapies offer a promising approach to repair the damage to lung tissues in these pulmonary diseases by controlling the immune balance.

AffyXell Therapeutics, the next-generation cell and gene therapy joint venture between Avacta and Daewoong Pharmaceutical, is developing a novel class of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) treatments that are engineered to also produce Affimer therapies in the patient at the site of action.

The expansion of the agreement between Avacta, Daewoong Pharmaceutical and AffyXell  extends the scope of the partnership to include Affimer molecules that target viruses, such as coronaviruses, in order to develop therapies that repair the lung damage caused by COVID-19 whilst also producing neutralising Affimer molecules to prevent the progression of the disease.

AffyXell will engineer mesenchymal stem cells to express SARS-COV-2 neutralising Affimer molecules in order to develop treatments for seriously ill COVID-19 patients, and will also prepare for rapid development of next-generation stem cell therapies for future infectious respiratory disease outbreaks.

Dr. Alastair Smith, Chief Executive of Avacta Group, said: “I am very pleased to have extended our collaboration and license agreement with Daewoong Pharmaceutical to include the SARS-COV-2 neutralising Affimer molecules for the treatment of COVID-19 and to create the potential to respond very rapidly in future to global virus threats.

“AffyXell will address the need over the coming years for advanced stem cell therapies to treat lung damage caused by cytokine release syndrome suffered by COVID-19 patients and, at the same time, help prevent disease progression in these patients through the action of a neutralising Affimer therapy.

“More broadly, one of the key areas of unmet clinical need that AffyXell can address with its next-generation mesenchymal stem cell therapies is acute pulmonary diseases such as COPD and acute respiratory distress syndrome. We, and our partners in South Korea, are very excited by the potential to develop life improving treatments for patients with these serious respiratory diseases as well as COVID-19.

“I look forward to further updating the market on progress in our ground-breaking programmes with AffyXell in due course, and on progress with our COVID-19 diagnostics programmes shortly.”

Seng-ho Jeon, CEO of Daewoong Pharmaceutical and AffyXell Therapeutics, said: “It is very encouraging that AffyXell now has the opportunity to expand the application of its next-generation stem cell platform technology to target viruses. The SARS-COV-2 neutralising Affimer to be developed in combination with AffyXell’s cell and gene technology is expected to be an innovative solution for COVID-19 patients suffering cytokine release syndrome.

“Daewoong has been also conducting several research programs and clinical trial for COVID-19. As the COVID-19 crisis has caused great difficulties worldwide, we will continue to focus our efforts to develop a novel therapeutic agent for COVID-19.”

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