Biotechs Offer a Glimmer of Hope Amid the Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak

March 20, 2020 - By: Baystreet Staff

The deadly coronavirus is having a serious economic impact on the world and causing widespread panic. Major stock markets saw a much-needed uptick on Thursday, but it’s uncertain how long that will last. The Nasdaq, S&P 500 and the Dow Jones were all in the green on Thursday after weeks of red, offering investors some respite after Wednesday’s sharp losses. Despite all of the doom and gloom, biotech stocks have remained stable and some have even seen their share prices increase as the world searches for a viable cure for the coronavirus or a vaccine to prevent further spread. Some biotech companies like CoCrystal Pharma, Inc. (NASDAQ:COCP) and Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) are working around the clock to develop a treatment, while others like Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ:MRNA) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO) are focused on creating coronavirus vaccines. Then, there are companies like Rockwell Medical (NASDAQ:RMTI) who treat high-risk kidney disease patients that could suffer the most from this deadly disease.

The global economic impact of the coronavirus, which has clocked in a death toll of nearly 10,000, could reach $2 trillion unless countries around the world take urgent steps. Some precautions have already been taken, such as shutting down large public venues, postponing or cancelling large events, and even implementing citywide lockdowns. Now, everyone is looking to biotech companies to develop a vaccine or a treatment for the virus.

Biotech Companies Race to Protect the Public from Coronavirus

There has been serious headway on both ends, with over 300 separate trials into different drugs and therapies being launched around the world. Last week, CoCrystal Pharma, Inc. (NASDAQ:COCP) announced that it is pursuing the development of novel antiviral compounds for the treatment of coronavirus infections after signing a licensing agreement with Kansas State University Research Foundation. The company has also closed two rounds of financing in the last month, one at the end of February for US$11 million and a second on March 11 for US$6.8 million. Meanwhile, Moderna Inc.’s (NASDAQ:MRNA) antiviral medicine remdesivir, which was originally developed to treat Ebola, will move into Phase 1 human trials on 45 healthy adult volunteers in the coming weeks.

Of course, vaccines and treatments are likely months away from hitting the market due to the nature in which new drugs must be tested. In the meantime, biotech companies like Rockwell Medical (NASDAQ:RMTI) are helping keep diabetes patients who are at higher risk of dying from the coronavirus.

Rockwell Medical has developed its drug Triferic to significantly improve iron and hemoglobin levels in kidney disease patients who are undergoing hemodialysis. The company’s Dialysate Triferic launched to the US market in May 2019, while it’s intravenous (IV) Triferic is up for PDUFA review on March 28. Triferic is the first and only FDA-approved product indicated to maintain hemoglobin in HD-dependent chronic kidney disease patients. Rockwell Medical (NASDAQ:RMTI) just announced a US$35 million debt financing agreement with Innovatus Capital Partners, which will provide the necessary capital to further advance its treatments.

While treating the coronavirus directly is very important at a time like this, it is also essential to protect the most vulnerable population in the meantime. At present, the majority of the people who have died from the virus are 60 years of age or older, with the largest group of fatalities being over 80 years old. This demographic is also the most likely to develop kidney disease and in turn, have a greater risk of dying from coronavirus. In fact, kidney involvement has been frequent in patients who have tested positive for coronavirus and could be a predictor for mortality. Kidney disease is one of the most common diseases worldwide, affecting over 850 million people across the globe. Roughly 37 million US adults have chronic kidney disease, with the largest percentage (38%) being 65 or older. Apart from a kidney transplant, the only way to treat individuals with kidney disease is through hemodialysis, which uses a machine to filter waste and excess fluids from your blood when your kidneys can’t. Unfortunately, hemodialysis can also result in blood loss and iron sequestration leading to anemia and can severely lower a patient’s immune system.

Global Economies Wait on a Much-Needed Solution to the Coronavirus Outbreak

People around the world are hopeful that a treatment or vaccine for the coronavirus will be announced in the coming weeks and although it may not reach the market that fast, things are looking up. As mentioned, several biotech companies have made some serious headway in the development of both vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 after the Chinese authorities shared the genetic sequence of the virus on January 11.

At the end of February, Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) initiated two Phase 3 clinical studies to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its drug remdesivir in adults diagnosed with coronavirus. The randomized, open-label studies will enrol around 1,000 patients at medical centers in Asian countries and other regions with a high number of diagnosed cases. CoCrystal Pharma, Inc. (NASDAQ:COCP) has also ramped up its efforts to develop a treatment for COVID-19 thanks to a license agreement with KSURF to further develop certain proprietary broad-spectrum antiviral compounds to treat norovirus and coronavirus infections. The company said it intends to pursue research and development of these antiviral compounds, including preclinical and clinical development.

When it comes to vaccines, many believe Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ:MRNA) offers one of the most viable options now that the company has commenced the first testing in humans for its mRNA-1273 vaccine. The company initially developed the vaccine to fight against SARS-CoV-2, so it was already ahead of the game in its development. Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO) also accelerated its timeline for developing its DNA vaccine INO-4800 to address COVID-19 and will be commencing human clinical trials in April on 30 healthy volunteers in the US.

Of course, until a viable vaccine is mass-produced, which will likely take at least a year, countries around the world will continue to take precautionary measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For individuals this means canceling travel plans, practicing social distancing, and staying at home as much as possible. The global economic impact of the coronavirus remains to be seen, but it’s clear that these biotech companies offer a bright spot in an otherwise dire situation.

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