By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL, July 17 (Reuters) - South Korea on Friday approved an early stage clinical trial of Celltrion Inc's 068270.KS experimental COVID-19 treatment drug, making it the country's first such antibody drug to be tested on humans.
Drugmakers worldwide are scrambling to develop vaccines and treatments for the flu-like illness caused by the novel coronavirus that has infected nearly 14 million people and killed more than 580,000 globally.
Celltrion's antibody treatment is directed against the surface of the virus and designed to block it from locking on to human cells.
The company plans to enrol 32 healthy volunteers in collaboration with a local hospital for Phase I study of the drug, which demonstrated an up to 100-fold reduction in viral load in animal tests.
Celltrion said overseas human trials of its treatment will begin soon across Europe, including the UK, which will be followed by global second and third trials in patients with mild and moderate symptoms.
It anticipates primary results from these studies by the end of this year and aims to commercialize the drug by early 2021, it said.
"Our human trials are conducted globally, so we will be able to export for sure, but will offer it to patients abroad only after securing domestic supplies for South Korea," Kee Woo-sung, its chief executive officer, told Reuters.
Its antibody treatment was developed after it was identified from a blood sample taken from one of the first South Korean patients who recovered from COVID-19 in February.
He said drugmakers should make prices for their COVID-19 treatments affordable to help end the pandemic, adding prices of its drug will be cheaper than that of Gilead Sciences Inc's GILD.O antiviral drug remdesivir.
In June, Gilead priced its COVID-19 treatment remdesivir at $2,340 per patient for developed nations.
Other companies developing potential COVID-19 treatments include Eli Lilly and Co LLY.N, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc REGN.O and AbbVie ABBV.N.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Kim Coghill)
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