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(LEAD) Celltrion accelerates development of COVID-19 treatment

All News 17:29 March 23, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more information in paras 1-8)

SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korean biopharmaceutical firm Celltrion Inc. said Monday that it is accelerating work on a treatment for the novel coronavirus as part of its efforts to address the global pandemic.

The company was earlier selected as a preferred developer for a monoclonal antibody project to treat and prevent COVID-19 by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Currently, there is no specific treatment for the new strain of virus.

The corporate logo of Celltrion Inc. (Yonhap)

Celltrion said that it plans to start clinical trials on humans to come up with a treatment for the novel coronavirus within the next six months.

It has identified a library of antibodies sourced from the blood of fully recovered patients in the country. These antibodies are thought to be involved in neutralizing the virus and may contribute to recovery.

In a further step, the biopharmaceutical firm plans to develop a so-called "super antibody" that can attach to and neutralize all coronavirus strains, such as the one causing COVID-19, and other new virus strains, enabling protection against unforeseen mutations.

The company also said it aims to develop a diagnostic kit for the virus that can decrease the test time to between 15 and 20 minutes and commercialize it within the next three months.

Celltrion said it plans to apply for device authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory authorities after acquiring relevant data.

"We implemented an emergency preparedness plan at the very start of the COVID-19 outbreak leveraging our unique antibody discovery, development and manufacturing technologies," Kwon Ki-Sung, head of the research and development division at Celltrion, said in a press release.

On Monday, shares of Celltrion spiked 14.75 percent to 175,000 won (US$138). The country's key stock index, the KOSPI, lost 5.34 percent to close at 1,482.46 points.

The country on Monday reported its lowest daily figure for new coronavirus infections since late last month, as the nation ramped up social distancing rules to slow the virus' spread.

The 64 new cases, which were detected Sunday, brought the nation's total infections to 8,961, according to the KCDC.


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