Shares of iBio (IBIO -6.92%) climbed on Friday after the biologics manufacturer announced an exclusive global license agreement with Planet Biotechnology for the development of its experimental COVID-19 therapy. As of 1:25 p.m. EDT, iBio's stock was up 5% after rising as much as 18.5% earlier in the day.
Planet Biotechnology's COVID-19 therapeutic candidate, labeled ACE2-Fc, is designed to have benefits similar to traditional neutralizing antibodies while reducing the likelihood of "viral escape" -- the ability of a virus to dodge a person's immune system. Planet Biotechnology said ACE2-Fc blocked SARS-CoV-2 -- the virus that causes COVID-19 -- from infecting Vero E6 cells during in vitro studies.
iBio, meanwhile, said that its FastPharming, plant-based protein-production platform could help to accelerate the therapy's manufacture. "We believe the molecule may be effective against SARS-CoV-2 infection, and that it has the potential to be rapidly redesigned in the FastPharming System to address mutations in the current virus, if any, as well as future coronaviral diseases," iBio CEO Tom Isett said in a press release.
Competition is intense among coronavirus therapy and vaccine makers. Billions of dollars in government funding have been awarded to healthcare giants, such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, and there are more than 170 coronavirus vaccine development projects currently under way around the world. This fierce competition makes smaller biotech companies like iBio relatively risky investments.
However, one area where iBio has an edge is its FastPharming manufacturing system, which uses plants to produce biological vaccines and medicines. It's a faster process that makes it easier for vaccine makers to quickly scale production. So, even if its own coronavirus vaccine candidates fail to produce the desired outcomes, investors can expect iBio to sign more manufacturing deals in the months ahead.