Pharma Focus Asia

Monopar and NorthStar Join Forces to Develop Radio-Immuno-Therapeutics (RITs) Targeting Severe COVID-19

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Monopar Therapeutics Inc. and NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, LLC (Beloit, WI) announced a 50/50 collaboration to develop potential Radio-Immuno-Therapeutics (RITs) to treat severe COVID-19 (patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection). Monopar is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company and NorthStar is a commercial producer and supplier of medical radioisotopes. This collaboration combines NorthStar’s expertise in the innovative production, supply, and distribution of important medical radioisotopes with Monopar’s expertise in therapeutic drug development and its pre-IND stage humanized urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) targeted monoclonal antibody known as MNPR-101, along with a proprietary portfolio of related monoclonal antibodies that target uPAR or its ligand uPA.

The uPA system (comprised of the serine protease enzyme uPA and its receptor uPAR) has been demonstrated to be selectively expressed on aberrantly activated immune cells. In response to coronavirus infection, these rogue immune cells produce pro-inflammatory cytokines that can cause runaway inflammation throughout the body, commonly referred to as a cytokine storm. It is this systemic hyper-inflammatory state that is thought to be largely responsible for the severe lung injury and further multiple organ damage that contributes to poor outcomes and death in patients with severe COVID-19.

In this collaboration, Monopar and NorthStar plan to couple MNPR-101 to a therapeutic radioisotope supplied by NorthStar in order to create a highly selective agent that has the potential to kill aberrantly activated cytokine-producing immune cells. By eradicating these cells with a targeted RIT, the goal is to spare healthy cells while quickly reducing the cytokine storm and its harmful systemic effects.

“This collaboration is a powerful combination of unique scientific and technical expertise to help combat severe COVID-19,” said Chandler Robinson, MD, CEO of Monopar Therapeutics. “The companies will be conducting a development program to determine if Monopar’s uPA/uPAR monoclonal antibodies can be transformed into RITs that are effective as treatments against severe COVID-19, as well as other corona viruses.”

“We are pleased to work together with Monopar in the battle against COVID-19,” said Stephen Merrick, CEO of NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes.” Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can develop a targeted radiopharmaceutical treatment that has the ability to prevent patients with severe COVID-19 from being placed on ventilators and from dying.”

 “To help mitigate the cytokine storm and reduce deaths associated with COVID-19, our goal is to develop an RIT that selectively eliminates the rogue aberrantly activated immune cells that produce these cytokines,” said Andrew Mazar, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of Monopar. “uPAR is selectively expressed on these rogue immune cells but not on healthy cells. An antibody carrying a therapeutic radioisotope could gain entry into these cells through uPAR and deliver its cytotoxic payload to kill these cells while sparing normal tissue.”

“NorthStar will apply its expertise to identify and supply the optimal therapeutic radioisotope to couple with Monopar’s uPAR monoclonal antibodies,” said James T. Harvey, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief Science Officer of NorthStar. “We will deploy the most appropriate development approaches and production technology to ensure that both development and, if successful, commercial-scale volumes of this radioisotope can be supplied in order to meet potential demand.”

This targeted therapeutic approach to treating severe COVID-19 is supported by a recently published study (Rovina et al. 2020) demonstrating that soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (suPAR), which is shed by aberrantly activated immune cells that make uPAR, is an early predictor of severe respiratory failure in COVID-19 and its presence increases as patients develop severe COVID-19.

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