Coronavirus: Winnipeg biotech company says COVID-19 treatment nearing production

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A Winnipeg company is working on a way to treat those who have become ill with COVID-19.

Emergent Biosolutions is developing experimental treatments for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. At the same time, it has partnered with two American pharmaceutical companies to work on a vaccine for COVID-19.

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In the past week, Emergent has teamed up with clinical-stage vaccine company Novavax as well as biotech company Vaxart to develop two vaccine candidates.

As senior vice president of therapeutics Dr. Laura Saward tells 680 CJOB, the company has a bit of a head start.

“We started right away, looking across our different platforms for how we could have an impact, and of course everyone is doing this quickly,” Saward says. “We looked at some of our proven technologies – platforms that have supported several licensed drugs, and we put those to work on coronavirus.”

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Saward explains while many researchers are focused on a vaccine that would make someone immune to COVID-19, they’re focused on therapeutics for those who would have already contracted the illness.

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“When you use a vaccine, you’re developing antibodies over time. This is a way to give someone a dose of these antibodies right away, and that would help to remove the infection or the virus from their system,” Saward says.

“It’s an approach we’ve used with many other infectious diseases where you isolate these antibodies from plasma sources. There’s hundreds of years of research behind this type of approach. It does take some of the risk out, and our focus is on going as fast as possible.”

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Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr tells 680 CJOB while any vaccine could still be over a year away, it’s important to remember we might not get one at all, as none of the previous six strains of the coronavirus has had a vaccine, so developing treatment is equally important.

“We don’t know if someone would become more ill [in the future], but we hope it follows the typical pattern where our immune system is a little bit educated about the virus and you are a little less ill the next time.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Can you be infected with coronavirus more than once?

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The public has been clamouring from answers when it comes to the illness, which has run rampant over many parts of the globe, and Saward explains her group is making great progress.

“Because we’re using these proven technologies, we have a high degree of confidence in the safety [of our product] and we’ll be able to get in the clinic very quickly to evaluate its efficacy.

And Saward says a solution to the illness could becoming quicker than you think.

“We will work with regulators to ensure we’re doing this in a way that’s safe — but our target is to get in the clinic by the end of summer. We will be manufacturing at our Winnipeg site by the beginning of summer.”

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