NEW YORK – Dr. Christos Kyratsous is the Vice President of Research of Infectious Diseases and Viral Vector Technologies at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. His name may sound familiar: a few months ago, he and his U.S.-based team made headlines for developing an experimental drug that has been shown to dramatically improve survival rates for the deadly Ebola virus. Today, he is making headlines for a similar and just as important reason: finding a treatment for the newest potential pandemic: the coronavirus.
The Greek scientist, a graduate of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University with a PhD from Columbia University in New York, spoke to The National Herald about the race against time and the search to find a treatment for the deadly illness.
The National Herald: What is the substance of your agreement with the government regarding the treatment of the coronavirus and what is the timeline for the treatment to be ready?
Christos Kyratsous: Our collaboration with HHS [United States Department of Health and Human Services], originally established in 2017, is focused on discovery, research, development, and manufacturing of a portfolio of antibodies targeting up to 10 pathogens that pose significant risk to public health, now including the Influenza virus and 2019-nCoV. This effort utilizes Regeneron’s proprietary VelociSuite technologies – including the VelocImmune platform which uses a unique genetically-engineered mouse with a humanized immune system that can be challenged with all or parts of a virus of interest – to facilitate swift identification, preclinical validation, and development of promising antibody candidates. VelociSuite technologies are particularly well-suited for use in quickly-developing outbreak situations, as was done for Ebola.
Generally, we feel well-equipped to tackle the challenge of this novel coronavirus given our turn-key technology for rapid antibody therapeutic development, as well as our track record in infectious diseases, including the similar coronavirus MERS-CoV. Each disease/case is different, but as a reference point, for Ebola it took us six months to discover brand new antibodies, isolate them and demonstrate their efficacy in preclinical models (this is very fast compared to ‘normal’ drug development timelines). If we are able to apply some of our existing antibodies against the novel coronavirus, timelines may be quicker.
TNH: Is the procedure for finding a treatment for this virus analogous to the case of Ebola where you were assigned a similar mission?
CK: Yes, we recently successfully applied our same technology to develop a new treatment for Ebola. We are very proud of the impact REGN-EB3, our investigational treatment, has had in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is still being administered to patients in the current outbreak. REGN-EB3 is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
TNH: Is the coronavirus more threatening than SARS?
CK: It’s hard to make an assessment like that, especially since much is still being learned about the current coronavirus. We know this is a serious outbreak and we are eager to deploy our technologies to hopefully help as many people as possible.
TNH: What is the prognosis of a patient who is infected with the coronavirus? Which patients are most vulnerable?
CK: I think we are still learning these things about 2019-nCov. The most current information is probably best provided by the WHO [World Health Organization] or other global health organizations who are tracking the outbreak data in real-time.
TNH: How can the spread of the coronavirus be confined or restricted? Do you think the travel ban is a good solution?
CK: Good sense measures in terms of washing hands, staying home when ill, etc. should always be followed regardless of outbreak scenarios. Individual governments and health authorities will have to assess larger responses, and we aren’t in a position to comment on those approaches.