Emergent BioSolutions has been enlisted by the federal officials to expedite work on a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Gaithersburg-based firm, which has two manufacturing plants in Baltimore, is working on a human plasma-derived therapy for use in critically ill patients and people at high risk. The plasma is taken from blood donations of people who have recovered from the disease and have produced antibodies that can be used by the immune system to tackle invaders.
Plasma-based treatments have been used for years, and there are separate efforts underway to develop its use for COVID-19 at Johns Hopkins University, in Chinese labs and elsewhere. Emergent is also working on another potential treatment made from the plasma of immunized horses.
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal health agency, awarded Emergent a $14.5 million grant for the work. The new potential plasma treatment will use an Emergent platform established in partnership with BARDA for anthrax and smallpox vaccine complications.
“In the current pandemic scenario where no preventative or therapeutic options for COVID-19 are available, public-private partnerships such as this are essential to the rapid development of medical interventions," Emergent President and CEO Robert G. Kramer Sr. said in a statement.
Emergent is also manufacturing two potential vaccines for the disease in its Baltimore plants.
Once a potential plasma-based therapy is developed, it will be put into human trials by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Emergent already has begun screening and collection of human plasma. The plasma will be purified and concentrated during manufacturing.
“Treatments for hospitalized COVID-19 patients are urgently needed to save lives in this severe pandemic,” said BARDA Director Rick Bright in a statement. “We are working with partners in industry and across the government, including engaging long-standing ... partners, to make safe, effective treatments available as quickly as possible.”