New Haven biotech gets $5 million Gates Foundation grant for coronavirus efforts

From left, Democratic mayoral nominee Justin Elicker, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Doug Manion, CEO of Kleo Pharmaceuticals, right, speaks with U.S. Sen, Chris Murphy, center, and New Haven then-mayoral candidate Justin Elicker, top left.

NEW HAVEN — A New Haven-based biotechnology company is getting a multimillion-dollar boost in its efforts to develop a treatment for COVID-19.

Kleo Pharmaceuticals has received a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as it seeks to use its Monoclonal Antibody Therapy Enhancers technology platform to fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Kleo is developing a synthetic version of a plasma treatment that has been used to treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

The synthetic treatment would mimic hyperimmune globulin, an antibody derived from the plasma of people who have recovered from the virus. The so-called hyperimmune globulin mimic treatment Kleo is developing uses a series of binders that enhance the capability of therapeutic antibodies to target one of the proteins found in SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Doug Manion, chief executive officer of Kleo, said the Gates Foundation funding will allow the company to rapidly advance its research with a goal of beginning clinical testing in early 2021.

“From Kleo’s initial work in HIV and my 20-plus years of experience in developing successful anti-viral medicines, the COVID-19 program represents an important component and natural evolution of the Kleo story,” Manion said.

Manion said that if the development of the hyperimmune globulin mimic treatment were successful, he envisions it would be used on patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms to prevent them from getting sicker. It also could be used as a safeguard to protect first responders and others who are at high risk for catching the virus.

Kleo Pharmaceuticals’ primary focus since its founding in 2016 has been developing drugs to fight cancer. Kleo Pharmaceuticals was created out of the research of its scientific founder, Dr. David Spiegel at Yale University.

But since the onset of COVID-19 in the United States, researchers from the company have thrown their efforts into developing treatments for the virus.

In addition to the treatment program that Kleo is receiving the Gates Foundation money for, the company has also established collaborations with South Korea-based Green Cross LabCell and U.S.-based Celularity to develop COVID-19 therapies. Kleo officials believe that the same antibody recruiting molecule technology that company researchers are developing to fight cancers such as myeloma, which develops in blood cells, can be used to treat the coronavirus.

Manion said some of the treatment technologies being used to create the COVID-19 treatment candidates “can be adapted to treat other diseases.” Such flexibility is important for the company’s financial stability with no guarantees the COVID-19 treatment research will yield any drugs that can successfully be marketed.

“We have a robust pipeline,” he said. “We are, by no means, a one trick pony.”

According to the Global Coronavirus COVID-19 Clinical Trial Tracker, there are currently 1,570 ongoing trials studying more than 50 drug interventions.

Connecticut Media Group