Juniors make steady progress on COVID-19 programmes while giants grab headlines

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While the world focuses on the COVID-19 developed by pharma giants, London’s tiddlers are making progress with their solutions to tackle the pandemic.


Remaining in the theme of immunisations, this week Scancell Holdings PLC (LON:SCLP) selected a candidate for its vaccine, SN14, that it believes has several advantages over those already approved.


As a second-generation vaccine, SN14 offers several potential advantages over currently approved and late-stage COVID-19 vaccines including the destruction of cells infected with the virus in addition to stopping it from entering cells.


Scancell reckons SN14 also has the potential to be effective against any variant or new strain of coronavirus in addition to the current COVID-19 strain and to build up longer-term immunity, while it has relatively simple manufacturing and temperature storage requirements.


The developer is working with Cobra Biologics on the preliminary work with the aim to start a phase 1 clinical trial as soon as possible during 2021.


Meanwhile, Synairgen PLC (LON:SNG) gave an early Christmas present to investors after tweaking the final-stage trial design of its SNG001 COVID-19 treatment to speed it up.


Following discussions with the regulatory agencies, the study has been amended to remove the lower dose arm, which will reduce the number of patients required to complete the placebo-controlled trial from 900 patients to 610 patients.


It means the study will be completed sooner than previously expected, with the market expecting a data readout in the second quarter next year.


In the testing space, Genedrive PLC (LON:GDR) told the US Food and Drug Administration that it intends to import and distribute its 96 SARS-CoV-2 kit in the US before receiving emergency use authorisation.


The company took the decision in order to support its collaboration agreement with Beckman Coulter that will see the pair bring to the market a fully automated COVID-19 testing solution. It also wants to exploit commercial opportunities.


Genedrive pointed out the FDA does not object to the distribution of SARS-CoV-2 test kits without emergency use sign-off under certain defined conditions as infections in the US continue to soar.


Broker finnCap Group PLC (LON:FCAP) noted that the move is “clearly” a positive, considering the need for increased testing capacity.


Fellow diagnostics firm Novacyt SA (LON:NCYT), which was one of the first companies to provide a COVID-19 test back in February, has just launched a research-use-only test for a specific new mutation of the virus after it was found mink in Denmark and The Netherlands.


The AIM-listed firm said the new strain, which spread to humans and has also been detected outside of Europe, is a potential concern to scientists and clinicians and could have implications for vaccine strategies.


The pandemic has drawn attention to the pharma sector, although stocks that have rallied thanks to COVID-19 treatment or diagnostics have recently been hit by positive news on vaccines that signal the light at the end of the tunnel.


However, experts say it is too early to discard these solutions as we are likely to live with COVID-19 for another while.


“A comprehensive vaccine programme will likely require multiple options to provide access for the wider population, with a phased roll out over months and so therapies as well as a range of effective and accurate tests are still likely to be needed for time to come,” said Proactive analyst Emma Ulker.

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