Inside a lab, doctors are developing innovative therapies for people with cancer or extreme pain.
“Almost any cancer antigen you can think of, we either have or can rapidly develop a fully human monoclonal antibody that targets that,” Dr. Mike Royal, Chief Medical Officer of Sorrento Therapeutics, said.
But in 2020, biotech company Sorrento Therapeutics responded to the pandemic as well.
“We actually within a one year time will build the largest portfolio of products in the COVID-19 space,” Dr. Henry Ji, the CEO of Sorrento Therapeutics, said.
These products included the development of COVI-STIX, a quick nasal swab antigen test, and COVI-DROPS, an intranasal neutralizing antibody product, among other products.
“So this is the way to treat outpatients who don't want to be get jabbed with a needle, to get a squirt up each nostril,” Dr. Royal explained.
How these products were developed is a story in itself.
“This is an antibody-centric company, and we get our antibodies from a library of antibody sequences that is all housed within what we call G-MAB,” Dr. Robert Allen, Senior VP of Antiviral & Immunotherapy Development for Sorrento Therapeutics, said.
It looks like a few large freezers next to each other to someone who walks by this library. All cooling at -80 degrees. “It ranks with the largest of these types of antibody libraries in the industry,” Dr. Allen said.
He explained that throughout your life, you develop antibody responses to your environment and your surroundings. Six hundred people donated their blood to Sorrento for this. The company then isolated the antibodies, and now, they live here as part of this frozen library.
“You have a tool now that can be used not only for identifying antibodies for cancer immunotherapy, but now we can use that same library to identify antibodies that are reactive towards infectious disease,” Dr. Allen said.
Which is how they were able to develop their most recent products so quickly. Dr. Royal said these would help in businesses and workspaces, even with FDA-approved vaccines on the market.
“Requiring vaccination or having a vaccination card or some proof, I think, is going to be difficult even for a private company because there are always going to be exceptions. Either health or religious or other types of reasons why people won't wanna get a vaccination,” Dr. Royal said.
“It’s such a marketplace, and you can understand why, just because of the pressure on businesses to open up safely,” Dr. James Neid, an infectious disease specialist and the Director of Infection Prevention for the Medical Center of Aurora, said. He said vaccination is still the most effective way to keep COVID-19 away.
“All of the questions about the future really do depend heavily on the vaccination rate,” he said. “The data is there for people who are fully vaccinated. Beyond that, it gets very challenging. We are still a little bit in the wild west.”
Not every business will want to ask employees to prove they’re vaccinated, so they have to focus on what they can control.
“Each business, it depends on how enclosed it is, how well the ventilation there is, how much outdoor space there is, and what's going on in the community around them,” Dr. Neid said.
Meanwhile, Sorrento’s products are going through the Food and Drug Administration approval process. They received FDA clearance to start a Phase 1 study for COVI-DROPS in March.
“If it gets FDA approval anywhere in the world, you can actually get that one from a CVS or regular drug stores with a prescription,” Dr. Ji said.
And they submitted COVI-STIX for an emergency use authorization back in December.
“We’re moving a lot of things along in the development pathway, but, you know, it takes time,” Dr. Royal said.
On top of masks, temperature checks, vaccinations, and other safety measures, Sorento is working on adding a few more tools to the toolbox.
“Human society is facing the biggest pandemic threat. Of course, if you're a drug company, you want to be in it to hopefully one day have drugs or a vaccine or detection system that can help society and save lives. That's our ultimate goal,” Dr. Ji said.