Memo Therapeutics’ Fast Technology Allows Targeting of Different SARS-CoV-2 Strains

Memo Therapeutics’ Fast Technology Allows Targeting of Different SARS-CoV-2 Strains
Illustration of antibodies (y-shaped) responding to a coronavirus infection. Different strains of coronavirus are responsible for diseases such as the common cold, gastroenteritis and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (previously 2019-CoV) emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The virus causes a mild respiratory illness (Covid-19) that can develop into pneumonia and be fatal in some cases. The coronaviruses take their name from their crown (corona) of surface proteins, which are used to attach and penetrate their host cells. Once inside the cells, the particles use the cells' machinery to make more copies of the virus. Antibodies bind to specific antigens, for instance viral proteins, marking them for destruction by phagocyte immune cells.

Swiss biotech Memo Therapeutics is using microfluidic and single-cell molecular cloning and screening technology to develop antibodies that can be used to target different strains of SARS-CoV-2.

It’s candidate antibody MTX-COVAB showed good virus neutralizing potency in animal testing at the end of last year and recently showed good efficacy against the U.K. variant of concern—B.1.1.7—and also the original strain. This treatment will soon be tested in the clinic.

The company can develop a new candidate antibody treatment within 3 weeks of receiving a patient blood sample, making this technology useful for targeting quickly developing variant strains of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Indeed, it has recently developed another candidate antibody treatment to target the South African variant of concern — B.1.351 – which is so far showing good virus neutralizing potential.

“Addressing SARS-CoV-2 variants remains a global challenge and one that will remain. Vaccines will not always be effective against all variants, so the ability of our technology to rapidly identify active antibodies could form an additional strategy to combat the spread of these mutant strains,” said Christoph Esslinger, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Memo, in a press statement.

Memo’s technology involves screening blood samples in single-cell format using a microfluidic platform. This allows the assessment of millions of candidate antibodies in a fast and effective manner. They are also able to copy entire collections of B cells from the sample and produce recombinant copies, meaning cells are not lost during the process.

The Zurich-based company is now collaborating with Serum Institute India and other undisclosed academic partners in Austria, Brazil and South Africa on a project to develop antibodies to target all the developing SARS-CoV-2 strains of concern using its technology.

“Memo’s ability to discover potent antibodies against COVID variants in such a short period of time highlights the power and broad applicability of our technology,” said Karsten Fischer, Ph.D., CEO of Memo. “We look forward to working with colleagues in India, Austria, South Africa and Brazil to apply this potent approach to these difficult to control new strains.”

Memo is by no means the first to develop antibody treatments to target COVID-19. For example, big players Lilly and Regeneron have several candidates in trials and in the clinic. But emerging variants have been an ongoing concern and the FDA ordered the two companies to track emerging variants and regularly test them against their antibody drugs in March this year. Therefore the speed of Memo’s technology could definitely be a benefit in responding to viral mutations.

Like many companies working in the antibody space, Memo is working on treatments for infectious diseases such as SARS-CoV-2 and also anti-cancer drugs. Its lead candidates at the moment are its MTX-COVAB antibody and also an antibody targeting BK virus, a relative of the polio virus that causes infection in immune-compromised patients.