Sorrento Therapeutics (NASDAQ:SRNE) made another committment toward developing new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines on Friday. The company has entered into a letter of intent to acquire privately held SmartPharm Therapeutics and its pipeline of non-viral gene therapies. The deal is expected to close next month; financial terms weren't disclosed.
Gene therapies generally rely on viral vectors to deliver genetic material, but this procedure adds a thick layer of complexity to the manufacturing process. Reactions are rare, but unexpected immune responses are another issue for viral-vector technology. SmartPharm's approach involves delivering strands of DNA and messenger RNA directly to cells with simple injections that don't involve any viral vectors.
In March, Sorrento and SmartPharm began collaborating on injectable gene therapies that lead to the production of antibodies originally discovered by Sorrento to fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The first candidate to enter clinical trials using SmartPharm's delivery technology will most likely be based on STI-1499, which is currently miles behind the front runners in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine. The company still hasn't submitted an investigational new drug application (IND) for STI-1499 or the version to be encoded on a DNA plasmid injection called STI-1499dpi.
An approved IND is a pre-requisite to begin clinical trials in the U.S., and the company doesn't plan to submit an application until next month for STI-1499. There's still no telling when STI-1499dpi will be ready for its first human proof-of-concept trial.