Covid-19 roundup: Amgen tosses Otezla into anti-inflammatory mix; Trump thickens plot around US probe into virus origin

Following in the footsteps of other large drugmakers who have repurposed their entrenched therapies against Covid-19, Amgen has released another weapon in its arsenal that could play a more immediate role in the pandemic.

Otezla ? the blockbuster psoriasis drug Amgen snagged from Celgene in a $13.4 billion deal last year ? will enter the clinic ?in the coming weeks to be investigated as a potential immunomodulatory treatment in adult patients with the disease,? R&D chief David Reese said in an earnings call.

The hope is that by blocking the PDE4 enzyme, the drug can help prevent the respiratory distress seen in late-stage Covid-19 patients, CEO Bob Bradway added.

In the absence of an antiviral proven to stop the infection ? although Gilead promises to change that very soon with buoyant data on remdesivir ? mitigating the inflammation that devastates and kills patients has become a popular goal. Among the most high-profile are a pair of IL-6 drugs, Kevzara from Sanofi/Regeneron and Actemra from Roche, although data have been mixed. Novartis and Incyte have also launched Phase III programs for the JAK inhibitor Jakafi.

PDE4, though, appears to be a new mechanism in the mix. While Otezla is only approved for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, a similar drug, AstraZeneca?s Daliresp, is approved to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

With the new move Amgen is now deploying three of its core expertise areas ? genetics, antibody and immunology ? against the coronavirus. Its deCODE subsidiary is engaging in epidemiology work while the R&D team has partnered with Adaptive to develop an antibody, backed by a capacity to manufacture at scale.

?Our goal also is to really identify a very high quality therapeutic candidate, and it?s my belief that there may well be more than one generation of antibody therapeutics entering the clinic,? Reese said. ?And as work progresses, we are up and running in the laboratory.? ? Amber Tong

While intelligence officials probe origin of virus, Trump says he?s seen evidence of links to Wuhan lab

A day after US intelligence agencies broke with usual practice to acknowledge that it is investigating the origin of the virus that causes Covid-19, President Donald Trump went one step further and claimed he?s seen evidence to make his own assessment.

Whatever he said he knows ? and he declined to elaborate when pressed ? has given him a ?high degree of confidence? that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is linked to the origin of the virus, he told reporters in a press briefing.

Since the early days of the outbreak in China there have been rumors that SARS-CoV-2 was man-made or genetically modified ? a theory that?s been widely refuted and debunked. On Thursday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying it concurs with that scientific consensus.

A related yet distinctively different concern has emerged that the virus might have been passed onto humans, by accident, in a Wuhan lab where it was being studied.

Top US officials, from the president himself and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have fueled the idea. Just two days ago Pompeo said again: ?We still haven?t gained access, the world hasn?t gained access to the WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology) there. We don?t know precisely where this virus originated from.?

The ODNI ?will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.? ? Amber Tong

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