US Government pin hopes on Qld COVID-19 wonder drug

 

A Brisbane company's experimental anti-inflammatory drug is being tested as a potential treatment in COVID-19 patients as part of trials sponsored by the US Government.

The drug, IC14, is being administered to Americans admitted to hospital with COVID-19 as part of two separate studies - in people on ventilators admitted to intensive care units and in others before they are ill enough for the ICU.

IC14 was invented in the US but developed over more than a decade by Brisbane company Implicit Bioscience after its Chief Scientific Officer and celebrated Queensland immunologist Ian Frazer recognised its potential.

Celebrated Queensland scientist Professor Ian Frazer. Photo: Annette Dew.
Celebrated Queensland scientist Professor Ian Frazer. Photo: Annette Dew.

Implicit Bioscience bought the rights to IC14 from US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly in 2009. The drug was originally invented by American immunologist Professor Richard Ulevitch in the 1990s.

IC14, given as an infusion, is being studied as a treatment in 20 motor neurone disease patients in Brisbane and Boston, some of them receiving the drug every fortnight for more than a year.

"It's a powerful drug but there don't seem to be any significant side effects in giving it," Professor Frazer said.

IC14 is a monoclonal antibody, a form of immunotherapy, that targets a protein on the outside of cells, known as CD14, a master regulator of the immune response to injury and infection.

By blocking CD14, the drug dampens down immune system proteins, known as cytokines, that can cause severe inflammation in many diseases, including COVID-19 and in neuro-degenerative conditions, such as motor neurone disease.

Inflammation in COVID-19 can result in multi-organ failure, affecting the lungs, kidneys, liver, heart and brain.

Implicit Bioscience's CEO Garry Redlich described IC14 as "pathogen agnostic", meaning it was designed to treat the inflammatory response regardless of the type of infection.

The big hope is that it will have uses in treating a range of conditions, where inflammation contributes to the disease. Mr Redlich said a trial of IC14 in patients after severe heart attacks is planned.

Results of the trial in ventilated patients are expected mid-year and those from the separate study of COVID-19 patients are due by the end of the year.

Immunologist Ian Frazer, who is the Chief Scientific Officer of Brisbane company, Implicit Bioscience. Photo: Annette Dew.
Immunologist Ian Frazer, who is the Chief Scientific Officer of Brisbane company, Implicit Bioscience. Photo: Annette Dew.

Professor Frazer said he expected the drug to be fast-tracked for use in COVID-19 patients if the trials showed it to be effective.

"Thinking globally, there's still a huge problem with COVID and it's going to take awhile to get it under control to the point where we're not really concerned about it," he said.

"Even if we manage to vaccinate Australia by the end of this year, and that's still controversial, I gather, then on a global basis, it's going to be a long time before we get universal immunisation."

The inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine said he expected COVID to "be around forever, like the flu" and people may need to be vaccinated every year to protect themselves.

"Like the flu, there'll be years when a new variant comes along which is somewhat nastier than the previous one or alternatively, much less nasty than the previous one, simply because these viruses change," Prof Frazer said.

He is lobbying the Queensland Government for the development of a bio-manufacturing facility in Brisbane where monoclonal antibodies could be made on a large scale.

Originally published as US Government pin hopes on Brisbane COVID-19 wonder drug



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