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Celltrion’s MERS, COVID-19 anti-virals selected as national projects

Celltrion announced Wednesday its anti-viral pipelines development for Middle East respiratory syndrome and COVID-19 have been selected as national projects.

The Korea Health Industry Development Institute, under the Welfare Ministry, had sought applications for infectious disease prevention and treatment tech projects, intended to encourage research and development of “cold case” treatments.

Celltrion now has a total budget of 3.7 billion won ($3 million) for potential MERS treatment CT-P38, including the government subsidy of 2.2 billion won. The company will work together with Korea University on details of the research.

Celltrion has been developing CT-P38 since 2015. The research had slowed after the number of MERS patients diminished in Korea. The conundrum of an anti-viral development is that there needs to be ample number of people infected with the virus to test on, to prove the safety and efficacy of the drug.

Having been picked out as a government project, the development for CT-P38 will once again pick up and prepare Korea for future epidemics in the possible case of incoming global travelers bringing in the MERS virus, according to the firm.

CT-P38 is anticipated to start phase 1 clinical trials in 2021, under collaboration with a Middle East nation, Celltrion said.

Clinical phase 1 trials are conducted on healthy volunteers to first test the toxicity of the drug dosage. It does not require massive numbers of MERS patients. More advanced clinical trials may take place when the number of MERS patients rises, Celltrion said.

Celltrion’s COVID-19 anti-viral candidate CT-P59 was also picked as a government-backed project.

Based on the experience of developing MERS treatment pipeline, Celltrion said it was able to apply the same process of deriving an anti-viral candidate from recovered COVID-19 patients’ blood sample to identify the potential drug candidate.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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