Royalty Pharma and Pablo and Almudena Legorreta Support Development of Antibody-Based COVID-19 Therapy at The Rockefeller University
Royalty Pharma and The Rockefeller University announced generous gifts totaling $5,760,000 from Royalty Pharma and Pablo and Almudena Legorreta. Half of the gift will be donated by Royalty Pharma and the other half by Pablo and Almudena Legorreta personally. These gifts will support late-stage research and clinical development of a new antibody-based therapy designed to fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Mr. Legorreta is founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma, a leading funder of innovation across the biopharmaceutical industry, as well as a Rockefeller University Trustee.
This new funding will advance the pioneering work of immunologist Michel C. Nussenzweig, M.D., Ph.D., and his laboratory team. Nussenzweig is the Zanvil A. Cohn and Ralph M. Steinman Professor at Rockefeller and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is also a senior physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital, a unique research facility on the Rockefeller campus, where an initial Phase I trial of the new investigational antibody therapy is expected to begin next month. Devoted entirely to patient-based research, Rockefeller’s Hospital is ideally suited to serve as the site of this first-in-human clinical trial.
The focus will be a pair of broadly neutralizing antibodies that Nussenzweig and his colleagues isolated last spring from the blood of people who had recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Using molecular technologies they developed, they were able to identify and clone the genes that produce the most powerful anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Over the past months, the scientists optimized these antibodies, making them longer lasting. The antibody combination is designed to bind to and disable two distinct sections of the virus’s outer spike protein, thereby blocking the microbe’s ability to infect human cells.
When the COVID pandemic struck in early 2020, the Nussenzweig lab was ideally positioned to launch this clinical development effort, building directly on their experience designing antibody-based interventions for HIV, Zika, and other viral pathogens. In January 2020, the lab’s portfolio of anti-HIV antibodies was licensed to Gilead Sciences, which is exploring their use for therapy, prevention and a potential cure for HIV/AIDS.
The lab’s new anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies have been studied in partnership with scientists worldwide, including Rockefeller virologists Paul Bieniasz, Theodora Hatziioannou, and Charles Rice, a recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in medicine, as well as structural biologist Pamela Bjorkman of Caltech, and many others.
Rockefeller University President Richard P. Lifton notes, “Antibody treatments will be a crucial part of our medical armamentarium against COVID-19 going forward, even with the availability of new vaccines. Antibodies can provide acute or chronic protection for individuals whose immune systems cannot adequately respond to a vaccine, and also serve as an effective therapeutic for people in the early stages of infection.
“We are tremendously grateful to Pablo and Almudena Legorreta and the Royalty Pharma family for their transformative gift at this key moment,” continued Lifton. “Pablo and his Royalty Pharma colleagues have been extraordinarily helpful partners, providing expertise and wise counsel, as well as critical funding, throughout the SARS-CoV-2 antibody development process.”
Pablo Legorreta said, “My wife, Almudena, and I are tremendously encouraged by the progress of the Nussenzweig lab’s research and pleased to be able to help them move their potentially life-saving antibody therapy toward the clinic. We have long admired Michel’s work at the frontiers of immunology and want to support his team’s efforts to address the current health crisis. We are also delighted to be a part of the Rockefeller University community and very proud of the university’s many enduring contributions to biomedical discovery and disease-focused innovation. As COVID continues to strain communities, Royalty Pharma is committed to supporting academic research centers and teaching hospitals who are on the frontlines of fighting this pandemic.”