Top Australian biotech firm CSL joins virus treatment race

SYDNEY/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Australia’s biggest biotech company CSL Ltd said on Wednesday it will start trials for an antibody product to treat people with the new coronavirus, joining a global rush to find a cure for a fast-spreading and potentially fatal illness.

CSL said in a statement it will test a blood plasma treatment for people with serious cases of the illness, formally called COVID-19, by collecting blood from people who have recovered from it and concentrating their virus-fighting antibodies.

The trial puts Australia’s second most valuable company in the race to find a treatment for the illness for which there is still no verified vaccine or cure. Nearly 3.7 million people have caught the flu-like illness since it was first reported in China late last year, of whom nearly 260,000 have died.

Australian health minister Greg Hunt said in the statement the CSL facility would be one of the first in the world to start development of an “immunoglobulin that may provide benefit to seriously ill Australians in need of treatment”.

Immunoglobulin refers to virus-fighting antibodies typically found in the blood cells of people who have recovered from a virus.

CSL, which started as a government laboratory called Commonwealth Serum Laboratories before it was privatised, said it would need blood plasma donations from about 800 people, collected by the Australian Red Cross, to produce enough immunoglobulin to treat between 50 and 100 seriously ill people under the trial.

Australia had recorded about 6,900 infections of the coronavirus, including 97 deaths, by Wednesday, according to government figures.

If a clinical trial succeeded, CSL said it would seek to register the product as COVID-19 Immunoglobulin with Australian regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration to allow its supply in Australia.

Shares of CSL, which has a market value of about $90 billion, were up 0.2% in late morning trade on Wednesday in a broader Australian stock market that was down 0.8%.

Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Hogue and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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