Roche terminates partnership to develop COVID-19 pill with Atea

SWITZERLAND – Roche Holding AG has terminated its collaboration with Atea Pharmaceuticals develop a COVID-19 antiviral pill, the Swiss drugmaker has announced.

The partnership termination has happened a month after the drug failed to help patients in a small study.

Many pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop an oral pill that can be taken as an early at-home treatment to help prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, a promising new weapon in the pandemic’s fight.

Following promising data, pills from Merck & Co Inc. and Pfizer Inc are currently being reviewed by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Last year, Roche and Atea collaborated to develop AT-527, an oral treatment, with Atea receiving a US$350 million upfront payment.

AT-527 works in the same way as Merck’s Molnupiravir and was widely expected to succeed in clinical development. The issue could have been with trial design.

While Merck excluded patients who had been vaccinated against Covid-19, Atea did not, which the company believes skewed the results.

Merck also only accepted patients with at least one risk factor for severe Covid-19, such as obesity or heart disease, whereas Atea only required a positive test and mild symptoms.

However, in a mid-stage study conducted in October, the treatment did not show a clear reduction in viral load in the overall population of patients with mild or moderate COVID-19.

Roche has since announced that it would focus on its other COVID-19 products, including the antibody cocktail Ronapreve, which was developed in collaboration with Regeneron, and the arthritis drug Actemra.

Meanwhile, in other positive developments, Roche has announced that the European Commission has granted a marketing authorization for Ronapreve for the treatment of COVID-19 in adults and adolescents from 12 years of age and weighing at least 40 kilograms.

COVID-19 is still prevalent around the world, thanks in part to the numerous SARS-CoV-2 variants in circulation.

In Europe, new cases have consistently exceeded 180,000 per day over the last two months. The region currently has the highest weekly case incidence rates in the world, and cases are on the rise as the winter season is fast-approaching.

Outside of the European Union, Ronapreve has been approved for use in Japan, as well as conditionally in the United Kingdom and Australia, and is approved for emergency or temporary pandemic use in other countries, including the United States, India, and Canada.

Ronapreve, which is being developed collaboratively by Roche and Regeneron, is now available in nearly 50 countries through bilateral purchase agreements spanning many geographies and economies, including lower middle-income countries.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization recommended Ronapreve for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

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