WuXi Biologics says coronavirus will not halt flow of critical drugs

From afar, it can sound like the whole of China has been overtaken by the outbreak of the novel and deadly coronavirus, but Chinese CDMO WuXi Biologics is reassuring the public it will continue to supply the critical drugs it produces to patients around the world. 

The contractor today announced its workforce and operations have been unaffected and that it is “working vigilantly to execute our Business Continuity Plan to mitigate any potential risk” and to ensure its products are unaffected by the outbreak. 

WuXi, which counts some Big Pharma players among it clients, explained only 6% of its workforce has traveled to, or through, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and that none of its workers have been diagnosed with an infection. It says it is “monitoring the health” of employees. 

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“We have sufficient number of staff to resume operations after the holiday break,” the company says. ”We have a strong GMP quality system and a robust global supply chain. We do not expect to see any negative impact of this outbreak on our operations.”

It did advise clients not to risk travel to China and to instead conduct meetings by phone or videoconference. 

In a separate emailed release, the Chinese company also said it has assembled a team of more than 100 R&D folks to work on a variety of “neutralizing antibodies” from some of its biotech clients that may be used against the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). It expects to have the first batch ready for preclinical and human studies in two months and commercial supplies ready in record time. 

“Compared with the traditional timeline of 12 to 18 months, all studies from DNA to IND could hopefully be completed in 4-5 months while maintaining high quality,” it said. Given its reactor capacity, a single batch could make enough antibodies to treat 80,000 patients.

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The announcement comes as China has taken extraordinary measures to limit the spread of the outbreak, which is believed to have originated in a Wuhan animal market a month ago. It is severely curtailed transportation and travel and public gatherings. But the situation there continues to be grim, Reuters reports

The number of confirmed cases in China has risen to nearly 6,000, with 132 deaths, almost all of them in the central Chinese province where Wuhan is located. 

That hasn’t stopped the virus from moving around the globe. There have been more than 4,500 others infected in more than a dozen countries, CBS reports. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that five cases have been confirmed, 32 ruled out and another 73 are being investigated.  

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Along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the CDC is conducting screenings at five designated U.S. airports of passengers who have been in Wuhan within the past 14 days. It says that since travel out of Wuhan has been shut down, “the number of passengers who meet this criteria are dwindling.”

Efforts are afoot by the biotech and pharma industry to rapidly find an effective vaccine and a treatment for the virus. China is recommending AbbVie’s fixed-dose HIV drug Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, as a treatment for pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus. Researchers and biotechs in the U.S. have responded in an effort to speed a vaccine to market, which wasn’t the case with other global outbreaks like Ebola and Middle East respiratory syndrome.