The biotech looking for “the Michael Jordan of antibodies”

May 18, 2020
We’re kicking off the week with a fascinating new episode of the I AM BIO Podcast about one company searching for a superstar antibody that could help us understand and beat COVID-19. And we’ve also got more from Cargill and Capitol Hill. Here’s your Monday news, in…

We’re kicking off the week with a fascinating new episode of the I AM BIO Podcast about one company searching for a superstar antibody that could help us understand and beat COVID-19. And we’ve also got more from Cargill and Capitol Hill. Here’s your Monday news, in 880 words, about 4 minutes, 20 seconds.

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The biotech looking for “the Michael Jordan of antibodies”

Everyone’s talking about antibodies and how they might be used to diagnose, treat, and vaccinate us against COVID-19. And one biotech, Adaptive Biotechnologies, is researching the immune system to determine exactly how this virus affects us—and how we can use this knowledge to end the pandemic.

We still have big questions about the coronavirus. “Why do some healthy people who get infected with COVID have no symptoms, while others end up on respirators? Why are most kids immune but a few have strokes?” BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood asks on the latest episode of the I AM BIO Podcast.

One biotech thinks they might be able to find some of the answers. “Some people are genetically able to attack exactly the right part of the virus,” an evolutionary response “to protect our population against complete annihilation from a virus,” said Dr. Harlan Robins, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Adaptive Biotechnologies

This is why we see such wildly disparate responses among people who are infected—and it’s totally random.

So, this is what Adaptive Biotechnologies is looking into. They’re mapping the specific T-cells that fight the virus to determine the exact immune response on a large scale. 

They’ve launched a massive, open-access study called immuneRACE, which will study the impact of the virus on the immune system in more than 1,000 people. They expect to start releasing data to the public as early as June. 

The end result could be a third type of diagnostic, allowing doctors to detect the disease early and identify asymptomatic patients by looking at the immune response, and even send people to the hospital who are at the greatest risk of complications before they get very sick. 

Adaptive Biotechnologies has partnered with Amgen, another BIO member, to discover and develop antibody therapies and search for “the Michael Jordan of antibodies,” said Dr. Robins.

Dr. Robins expects they’ll find the signal for diagnostics in a matter of weeks, and with Amgen’s help, be able to commercialize it quickly. The biggest question will be regulation, and how quickly they can get approval to market the test. 

This technology could help us prepare for future pandemics, too. A worldwide surveillance system to tracking “novel immune responses”—like the unusual pneumonia-like cases that popped up in Wuhan at the end of last year—could allow us to track and respond to pandemics sooner. 

Listen to the whole thing to learn more about how your body develops antibodies, what makes the novel coronavirus different from the common cold, and why the immune system is a “shockingly hard thing to measure.” 

Get the podcast at or wherever you get your podcast fix, including Apple, Google, and Spotify.


More Health Care News: 

CNBC: Moderna reports positive data on early-stage coronavirus vaccine trial, shares surge
“Moderna’s closely watched early-stage human trial for a coronavirus vaccine produced Covid-19 antibodies in all 45 participants.”

STAT: Trump administration outlines audacious plan to deliver ‘hundreds of millions’ of COVID-19 vaccine doses by end of 2020
“The project will rely in part on allowing drug manufacturers to begin scaling up their manufacturing efforts prior to receiving approvals regarding a potential vaccine’s effectiveness, officials said.”


How Cargill is helping to reduce the fossil fuels in our everyday products

BIO member Cargill is teaming up with consumer products powerhouse P&G to develop the technology to make more biobased products and reduce emissions. Here’s the scoop. 

The news: Cargill announced an exclusive partnership with P&G to develop and commercialize technology to convert lactic acid, which is produced by fermenting renewable crops, into biobased acrylic acid. 

The result: Everyday consumer products, ranging from hygiene and personal care products to household paints, could be made with renewable crops instead of fossil fuels. 

What they’re saying: “By using annually renewable crops, we’ll be able to contribute to farmer prosperity while delivering more renewable solutions that are estimated to have less than half the GHG footprint versus petroleum-based equivalent,” said Dr. Jill Zullo, strategic marketing and innovation leader for Cargill’s bioindustrial business.

Why it matters: We’re finding more and more evidence that pollution, particularly from fossil fuels, has a negative impact on human health—from air pollution raising the mortality rate of patients battling COVID-19, to a new study released from the American Cancer Society showing that climate change and increased exposure to carcinogens are increasing cancer risk. By using renewable, biobased materials instead of fossil fuels, we can clean up the planet and reduce health risks.


More Agriculture & Environment News:

American Cancer Society Journal: Climate change and cancer
“Climate change is already increasing cancer risk through increased exposure to carcinogens after extreme weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires. In addition to increasing cancer risk, climate change is also impacting cancer survival.”

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Monday: He’s meeting with the restaurant industry and U.S. Governors. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has some new members: Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, FDA Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Dr. Peter Marks, and Health Resources and Services Administrator Thomas Engels. 

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: On Friday, the House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus aid package, with a historic rule change allowing Members to vote remotely. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the Senate will not take up the bill, and POLITICO reports they’re “nowhere close” to a deal. Today, the Senate’s in session, but the House is not.

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