Covid-19 medicine developed by biotech scaleup, ready for final clinical trial – urgent call for scientists and investors

Published: 17/03/2020
Author: Susanne Chishti, CEO & Founder, FINTECH Circle

I came across a fascinating video interview with a globally leading Genetics Professor Josef Penninger, Head of the Life Sciences Institute of the University British Columbia in Vancouver who together with the Austrian biotech scale-up APEIRON Biologics have developed a medicine against severe lung failure (pneumonia) which can affect the 5% critically ill patients who get the coronavirus.

The medicine has been developed over more than 15 years and initially was a response to the first SARS outbreak in 2003. The first SARS virus spread to over 8,000 people worldwide and killed 10%, almost 800. The new coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2, causes the disease Covid-19 and uses a so called protein “ACE2” to enter our cells. No ACE2 mean no infection.

The good news is that this small, privately owned Biotech company of only 35 people has already completed the first clinical tests – Phase 1 on healthy people and Phase 2 on sick people over the last few years. Now they are planning to conduct the final clinical trial on Covid-19 patients in China.

However, they need more scientists to help them conduct trials and tens of million in funding to roll out the medicine and look for investors. So if you can help please get in touch with them – you can find contact details at the end of this post.

The original video I watched is only available in German here – I have translated the key points into English below.

Their Press release to announce the medical trial in China is here.

A very detailed medical/scientific presentation by Prof Josef Penninger on their research and resulting medicine can be found here (in English).

Summary of the Interview by Agenda Austria with Prof Josef Penninger

Agenda Austria
: Ladies and Gentlemen, we are very pleased today that the renowned Austrian molecular biologist and immunologist Prof Josef Penninger is our guest. We are in the European Society for Radiology in Vienna.

Thank you very much Prof Josef Penninger to make time for us, because at the moment you are probably the most sought after Scientist in the country.

You headed the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology IMBA of the Austrian Academy of the Sciences from 2003 to 2018. Since 2018 you moved to the Life Sciences Institute of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver as Professor.

A lot of eyes are on you and also on the Viennese Biotechnology company APEIRON Biologics which has developed a medication against heavy lung disease, which can potentially also be used against the new coronavirus Covid-19.

Prof. Penninger: Thank you for the invitation… I have been at the SARS outbreak in Canada in 2003… 400 people got sick with 10% death rate. This new corona virus is the brother of the 1st SARS virus.

Italy has a current 6% mortality rate, hopefully this can be corrected down over time.

For over 80-year old people the mortality rate is 15% I believe.

The danger with Covid-19 is that I could have the virus and you could have the virus and we don’t know it as we both have no symptoms, and this is of course a problem as we still can pass the virus on to other people.

Agenda Austria: I would like to talk about potential solutions as you have developed a medicine for severe lung disease which could also be used against this virus. Tell us more about this medication?

Prof. Penninger: Yes, this is the focus of my fundamental research. I have to declare a conflict of interest because I co-founded and am still a shareholder of APEIRON, a private biotech company in Vienna which has developed this medicine.

We have worked for more than 15 years on the so-called “ACE2” protein.

Imagine a house with a door which must be opened to enter. The virus has to come through this door into our bodies… Our research has shown that the virus attaches itself to this ACE2 protein and then enters our cells. No ACE2 means you can’t get infected. The new virus is called SARS Corona Virus Number 2 (SARS-Cov-2 causing the disease Covid-19) because it is similar to the first SARS virus for which we developed the medicine for.

This gives us lots of hope… It takes many years to develop a new medicine and to test that it is safe and effective and we’ve already done that. We have successfully completed the Phase One clinical studies with healthy people and Phase Two clinical studies with people who are seriously ill.

We have published our fundamental research of how and when the virus infects and know the new virus does the same. Based on that, we have over 15 years developed the drug which has already been tested on humans and the next step is to test it on Covid-19 patients. The next clinical trial could start in China next week and we would also like to conduct a trial in Europe.

In China we have brought together a great international team with fantastic scientists and doctors from Canada (who have worked on the previous SARS outbreak), Austria and China. We are waiting for the approval by the Chinese health authority to start the trial hopefully next week.

Time is essential and we would like to test our medicine on 160 patients and when these tests are successful, we could start manufacturing the medicine.

But we are a small private biotech company with only 35 people and need financial help to roll this medicine out and also scientific help to conduct more clinical trials outside of China as well to speed up the process.

< End of Interview Summary >

Disclaimer: I do not know the company in person myself, nor do I have any financial interest. But I felt very hopeful that this impressive biotech scale-up might have developed the medicine to save millions of lives. It needs institutional investors now to scale up fast and to conduct their final trials and then hopefully produce medicine for millions of Covid-19 patients worldwide.

I could find the CEO of the APEIRON Biologics on LinkedIn, his name is Peter Llewellyn-Davies.

For investors, to help with funding please contact:
APEIRON Biologics AG
Campus-Vienna-Biocenter 5
1030 Vienna
T +43 1 86565 77
F +43 1 86565 77-800

For Scientists who want to participate in the next clinical trials, pls contact:
APEIRON Biologics AG
Campus-Vienna-Biocenter 5
1030 Vienna
T +43 1 86565 77
F +43 1 86565 77-800

Best wishes,

Susanne Chishti,
CEO & Founder, FINTECH Circle