biocon: Looking at ‘repurposing’ drugs: Biocon

Bengaluru-based biotech major Biocon is working on multiple fronts — therapeutic vaccines, new drugs and ‘repurposing’ medicines — to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. The company, with revenues of over Rs 5,600 crore, hopes to “repurpose” its existing novel biologic Itolizumab to treat complications caused by Covid-19, while another drug Cytosorb, used for sepsis treatment, may also help in reducing mortality, its chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said. Biocon is exploring opportunities to collaborate with US companies to develop antibody-based therapeutic vaccines through Indian-American oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, she told TOI. Excerpts:

Several pharma companies are using existing drugs to see if they work for Covid-19. Is Biocon “repurposing” drugs from its portfolio?

We are working to repurpose our novel monoclonal antibody Itolizumab (used in psoriasis) to treat complications caused by Covid-19 infection. If we can successfully establish the potential role for our molecule in treating Covid-19 complications, it will enable us to address a critical unmet need.

In addition, Cytosorb, a product that Biocon has licensed from a US company, has recently been approved by the USFDA for emergency treatment of Covid-19. Cytosorb — introduced in India for sepsis treatment in 2013 — is a safe and well-tolerated innovative therapy for managing cytokine storm in critically-ill patients. We hope that it will help in bringing down mortality in Covid-19 patients as well.

Biocon is understood to have partnered noted oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee for developing Covid-19 drugs. Are these plasma-derived therapies or anti-virals?

ThroughMukherjee, we are in contact with several US companies developing antibody-based therapeutic vaccines. We want to explore opportunities to collaborate with these US companies to develop these antibody-based vaccines together. There is no formal tie-up as yet.

What is the status of test kits which Biocon’s subsidiary Syngene is developing? Are these antibody testing kits or PCR ones?

At Syngene, my team is working on developing PCR-based diagnostic as well as a serological antibody testing kits. Serological testing can be used to detect antibodies present in the blood to identify the real number of people in a population who have come in contact with the Covid-19 virus.

This test can actually also identify people who may not even have shown any symptoms and recovered. If serologic testing can be done on a large number of people across the country, it would also reveal if India as a country has developed ‘herd immunity’ against the disease, it will give the government a key data matrix to gradually lift curfews lockdown from specific areas.

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