People in the biotech world have talked about Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:REGN) for a long time. After all, the company has achieved a lot of success over the years.
But now, people all over the world are interested in Regeneron. Just look up the company's name as a search term on Google Trends. Searches about the biotech have skyrocketed in recent weeks. Why are so many talking about Regeneron these days? The company is at the forefront of developing potential treatments for coronavirus disease COVID-19.
An arthritis drug to the rescue?
Regeneron and its big partner, Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY), first launched Kevzara in 2017 as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The drug inhibits the interleukin-6 (IL-6) pathway. IL-6 is a protein that lets cell receptors know to send signals that could lead to inflammation.
Last week, Regeneron and Sanofi announced that they were testing Kevzara in treating patients with COVID-19. How could an arthritis drug help with the novel coronavirus disease? The hunch is that IL-6 could play a role in causing inflammation in the lungs of patients with severe cases of COVID-19 like it does with rheumatoid arthritis.
The two drugmakers are enrolling up to 400 patients in a phase 2/3 clinical study. The first part of this study will include 16 sites across the U.S., including medical centers in New York City, a hotbed for COVID-19 cases. Regeneron and Sanofi will assess how well Kevzara reduces fever and reduce the need for supplemental oxygen in this part of the study. The second part of the study will evaluate longer-term outcomes for patients with severe COVID-19 who use Kevzara.
Mixing a cocktail
But Kevzara isn't the only potential COVID-19 treatment in the works for Regeneron. The biotech also announced last week that it could start testing a cocktail therapy targeting the coronavirus disease by early summer.
Regeneron's "cocktail" will include two antibodies selected from hundreds of antibodies that its scientists have isolated that hold the potential to neutralize the novel coronavirus. The company took two approaches to identify prospective antibodies. Some of the antibodies come from mice that Regeneron genetically engineered to have a human immune system. Other antibodies came from human patients who have recovered after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
The company plans to evaluate all of the antibodies that it's isolated to select the two most powerful ones to use in its cocktail therapy. It believes that this multi-antibody strategy could target different parts of the novel coronavirus as well as potentially help with protecting against multiple variations of the virus.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of Regeneron's experimental cocktail therapy is that it could be used both as prophylaxis before individuals are exposed to the coronavirus and as a treatment for people who have already been infected.
Regeneron co-founder, president, and Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos said that the company will provide "regular and transparent updates on our discovery and development programs." The phase 2/3 study that Regeneron and Sanofi are conducting with Kevzara isn't scheduled to wrap up until March 2021.
The company didn't indicate how long it expects the clinical study evaluating its experimental COVID-19 cocktail therapy will take. However, Regeneron appears to be assuming good news could come relatively quickly. It's ramping up to manufacture hundreds of thousands of prophylactic doses each month of the cocktail therapy by the end of this summer.
All of the buzz surrounding Regeneron's COVID-19 programs has been good news for investors. The biotech stock has jumped by a double-digit percentage so far this year while most other stocks have plunged. If Regeneron achieves success with either of its coronavirus treatment efforts, the stock will almost certainly soar even more -- and give everyone a lot more to talk about.