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Regeneron enlists Roche to boost production of COVID-19 antibody drug

Swiss drugmaker Roche has agreed to help produce and distribute Regeneron’s experimental antibody treatment for COVID-19, joining forces with the U.S. biotech in an unusual manufacturing partnership.The deal will expand the production capacity for Regeneron’s drug, which is being studied to both treat and prevent coronavirus disease, by at least three and a half times, the companies said.Regeneron will distribute and sell the treatment, if approved, in the U.S., while Roche will supply it globally. Each drugmaker will reserve manufacturing capacity to produce the drug, which could still play an important role in curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with the daunting challenges of  quickly developing and producing treatments for a virus discovered just eight months ago, drugmakers are turning to partners to help. Gilead, for example, earlier this month enlisted Pfizer to produce vials of its COVID-19 drug remdesivir, which has been shown to speed the recovery of patients infected with the new coronavirus.

In Roche, Regeneron has partnered with a pharmaceutical giant that specializes in antibodies. The deal suggests confidence in Regeneron’s treatment, a cocktail of engineered antibodies dubbed REGN-COV2, RBC Capital Markets Kennen MacKay wrote in a note to investors.

Most importantly, the agreement allows Regeneron to get much more of its product out into the world if REGN-COV2 proves effective. Currently, the Tarrytown, New York-based company’s production is limited to “tens of thousands” of doses a month for COVID-19 treatment, MacKay said. When used for prevention at a lower dose, Regeneron’s capacity climbs to the “hundreds of thousands” level, he said.

The U.S. has already snapped up the right to as many as 300,000 doses by this fall under a $450 million agreement announced in July.

Regeneron’s treatment is designed to neutralize COVID-19 by blocking the virus, SARS-CoV-2, from breaching uninfected cells, thereby limiting infection. Consisting of two antibodies, REGN-COV2 binds to a critical receptor on the virus’ surface.

Research of REGN-COV2’s ability to treat confirmed COVID-19 patients is underway in two Phase 2/3 trials. In addition, a Phase 3 study is looking at whether REGN-COV2 can prevent infection in households that already have an infected family member.