Media Focus

Apr 15, 2021

Korean companies work on RNA Covid-19 treatments, vaccines

Korean pharmaceutical and biotech companies are racing to develop Covid-19 treatments and vaccines using RNA technology.

GC Wellbeing is repurposing Laennec, a human placenta hydrolysate injection, as an antiviral drug against Covid-19.

The company said it began to analyze the microRNA(miRNA) of Laennec last year. The antiviral effect of the miRNA is expected to treat Covid-19 infection, the company said.

GC Wellbeing said it could predict the location where the RNA of the Covid-19 virus and the placenta-derived miRNA bind by using “TargetScan,” a program to predict a miRNA target. The company derived five miRNA candidates which are most likely to have antiviral effects.

On Friday, the company applied for three international patents under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) – an antiviral composition containing placental extract-derived miRNA, an antiviral composition containing placental hydrolysate, and an antiviral composition containing placenta-derived material.

The patents include the results of confirming the antiviral effect of the placenta-derived substance through an in vitro test and the analysis of various miRNAs obtained through next-generation sequencing (NGS) data analysis, the company said.

On Feb. 26, GC Wellbeing obtained regulatory approval for a Phase-2a trial of the Covid-19 drug candidate Laennec. The company plans to evaluate the antiviral effect and safety of Laennec by administering it as intravenous injection drips to patients hospitalized for moderate Covid-19 infection.

In September, the company said it confirmed that Laennec’s antiviral effect in a ferret model was almost equal to that of remdesivir, a repurposed Covid-19 treatment by Gilead Sciences.

In August last year, CHA University College of Life Science’s research team, led by professor Moon Ji-sook of the Biotechnology Department, published a paper saying that miRNAs in mesenchymal stem cell-derived extracellular vesicles (MSC-EVs) could treat and prevent Covid-19.

Han Hae-jung, research director at the R& Center of GC Wellbeing, said the company planned to secure Laennec’s data on local Covid-19 patients’ symptom improvement, reduce the treatment period, the effect of boosting immunity, and the viral load reduction in PCR tests.

ST Pharm, which used to manufacture oligonucleotide active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) in a contract manufacturing organization (CMO) deal, recently jumped into the development of the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine.

On April 8, ST Pharm signed a non-exclusive licensing agreement with Swiss biotech firm Genevant Sciences to introduce lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology.

The Korean company aims to use the LNP technology to develop a Covid-19 mRNA vaccine in 12 Asian countries, excluding China. ST Pharm is expanding its GMP plant in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, to mass-produce mRNA vaccine.

ST Pharm will pay Genevant Sciences up to $133.75 million, including development and commercialization milestone payments.

Multinational drugmakers have already won approval for Covid-19 vaccines, but ST Pharm said its mRNA vaccine would be profitable.

“An mRNA vaccine can quickly induce neutralizing antibodies by replacing the mutated nucleotide sequence,” an official at ST Pharm said.