Takeda begins development of plasma-derived therapy for COVID-19

Takeda announced Wednesday that it has started work on TAK-888, an anti-SARS-CoV-2 polyclonal hyperimmune globulin (H-IG), to treat high-risk individuals with COVID-19. The company also indicated that it is investigating whether any of its currently-marketed products and molecules in its drug library may be effective treatments for patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The drugmaker said it is currently in discussions with national health and regulatory agencies and healthcare partners in the US, Asia and Europe to enable research into TAK-888 to move forward. Takeda noted that this requires access to source plasma from people who have successfully recovered from COVID-19. According to the company, the plasma will contain antibodies to the virus that could potentially mitigate severity of illness in subsequent cases and possibly prevent it.

Rajeev Venkayya, co-lead of Takeda's COVID-19 response team, said "we have identified relevant assets and capabilities across the company and are hopeful that we can expand the treatment options for patients with COVID-19." The drugmaker explained that because the plasma needed for TAK-888 is unlikely to come from current plasma donors, it will initially produce the therapy in a segregated area within its manufacturing facility in Georgia.

Takeda gained the plasma-derived therapies business via its $62-billion acquisition of Shire in 2019. Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Caroline Stewart called the unit "crucial," adding "I think this may be a better approach than others are taking. At least conceptually this should have a higher chance of success, but of course we won’t know until there are actual results from clinical trials."

However, Jefferies analyst Stephen Barker suggested that possible constraints on plasma supply could be a challenge for Takeda's therapy. "Even if they can demonstrate it works, it's not clear they would be able to manufacture enough of it. You'd have to organise donations from a lot of people, and you'd have to fractionate that blood," he said, adding "it's a lot more complicated than manufacturing almost unlimited quantities of a synthetic antiviral, for example."

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump met with executives from a number of pharmaceutical companies to discuss progress on efforts to develop treatments for COVID-19, which he said are expected to be available before a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. For related analysis, see ViewPoints: Biopharma goes to Washington, and KOL Views Results: Leading expert says COVID-19 response is proportionate and embraces lessons from prior outbreaks.

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