Swiss pharma giant Roche has signed a $350 million deal with Boston-based Atea Pharmaceuticals for the exclusive right to research, develop and distribute a potential Covid-19 treatment outside the U.S., Atea said Thursday — the oral antiviral is currently in phase 2 clinical trials and there are plans to study it as a way of preventing Covid-19 infection.
Drug AT-527, which is taken by mouth, is designed to interfere with viral RNA polymerase, which plays a key role in coronavirus replication in the body.
Atea hopes to begin large-scale phase 3 clinical trials in outpatients in the first half of 2021.
A separate trial is planned to explore whether AT-527 could prevent Covid-19 infection following exposure to the virus.
Roche may also pay milestone payments and royalties for Atea’s AT-527 drug.
A vaccine for Covid-19 is still months away from approval and even further from being distributed widely. Until then, and perhaps afterwards, having effective treatments for Covid-19 will be vitally important to save lives as the pandemic continues. Few medicines have been approved for this purpose. Last week one of the most promising, remdesivir, was proven ineffective by the WHO. With this deal, Roche is clearly optimistic about AT-527’s potential in this category.
Atea said it plans to study AT-527 “in the post-exposure prophylaxis setting” in a phase 3 clinical trial. This means the drug could have the potential to be used to prevent Covid-19 infection in exposed individuals.