Pharma Focus Asia

Anixa Biosciences and OntoChem Announce Collaboration to Develop Novel COVID-19 Therapeutics

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Anixa Biosciences, Inc., a biotechnology company focused on the treatment, prevention, and diagnosis of cancer and infectious diseases, today announced that it has entered into a strategic collaboration with OntoChem GmbH to discover and develop anti-viral drug candidates for COVID-19.

Dr. Amit Kumar, President and CEO of Anixa Biosciences stated, "There are a number of drugs that are either in, or will shortly be in, clinical trials against COVID-19.  While we unquestionably hope one or more of those drugs is successful, we must note that all those drugs were developed for other viruses and other diseases.  During this very acute pandemic, it's expected that previously developed molecules will be tried, to quickly determine if something is effective.  However, we believe that newly designed drugs that are purposefully developed to specifically target SARS-CoV-2, enabled by the recent studies of the molecular biology of this virus, will have the potential to be far more effective than hoping to get lucky with a repurposed drug.  Therefore we are initiating this program to identify drugs that may have much greater efficacy.  Additionally, the research plan is designed to identify compounds that might have efficacy not only against SARS-CoV-2, but other similar viral diseases as well."

While Anixa has primarily focused in oncology, its nimble and flexible capital efficient business model, enables it to effectively address new critical unmet needs such as this dynamic pandemic.  Further, Dr. Kumar has previous experience working in the infectious disease area, including work done with the SARS-virus that emerged in 2003.  In fact, Dr. Kumar and his company at that time, worked with a number of government agencies including the Department of Defense to develop technologies to detect and monitor deadly infectious diseases.  In performing that work, Dr. Kumar made presentations to various members of the U.S. Senate and House regarding upcoming and emerging diseases.  Considering the acute public health and economic problems caused by COVID-19, Anixa felt it was important to utilize its expertise and leverage its business model to address this pandemic.

Dr. Kumar continued, "We are pleased to be working with OntoChem for the discovery and development of new drug candidates for COVID-19.  OntoChem has developed the world's largest chemistry and gene ontology databases and search capability and has assembled large, proprietary, in silico libraries of chemical compounds that could disrupt the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to replicate.  In silico refers to the existence of compounds in a computer database with detailed molecular structures.  In addition to its proprietary libraries, OntoChem has access to other libraries of potential drug compounds.  After recent publications of the RNA sequence, as well as key crystal structures of certain enzymes of the virus, we approached OntoChem to collaborate on a project to utilize their proprietary technologies for drug discovery."

Dr. Lutz Weber, President and CEO of OntoChem stated, "The discovery of investigational drug candidates can ordinarily take several years.  However, through this collaboration, we anticipate identifying multiple drug candidates in as little as six months' time.  To do this, we will utilize advanced computational methods, machine learning and molecular modeling techniques to perform in silico screening of over 1.2 billion compounds to evaluate if any could disrupt one of two key enzymes of the virus.  This comprehensive group of over 1.2 billion compounds includes publicly available and OntoChem's proprietary libraries.  To our knowledge, this project will utilize the largest number of compounds with the broadest chemical diversity ever tried against SARS-CoV-2.  Due to the size and diversity of the compounds, we are very optimistic about success.  After identifying key compounds, we will have them synthesized and evaluated in biological and cellular assays to assess their potency.  Following that work, we hope to have a small number of candidates that can be taken into animal studies."

Dr. Weber continued, "This project is a very promising approach to identifying and developing a drug specifically for COVID-19.  Following publication of recent information about COVID-19, we were evaluating certain projects addressing this disease agent.  We were pleased that Anixa proposed this collaboration to work together using both companies' collective expertise and our proprietary technologies."

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