Better late than never for Boehringer in Covid-19

Boehringer says its inhaled antibody could reach the patients IV antibodies cannot, but will be “very happy” if it isn’t needed.


Think of companies that have been active against Covid-19, and Boehringer Ingelheim does not immediately spring to mind. Still, the private German group used its 2020 financial results to highlight its work here, in particular an inhaled monoclonal antibody, BI 767551, in phase 1/2 development.

But this project will not reach regulators until the end of the year, Boehringer’s chief executive, Hubertus von Baumbach, told attendees of the group’s annual press conference. With the pandemic hopefully all but over by then, the company looks like it has missed the boat on Covid-19.

Boehringer executives laughed off such concerns, with Michel Pairet, the company’s global head of innovation, telling Evaluate Vantage: “I’d be very happy if we don’t need our beautiful antibody.”

“If it’s over, it’s over, but it’s worth the effort,” added Carinne Broillon, who leads Boehringer’s human pharma division. "We know there are variants ... that escape. There will still be some patients who are impacted."

Inhaled, not injected

If the worst happens and antibodies are still needed by this time next year, Boehringer hopes that BI 767551 could address the whole spectrum of Covid-19, from prophylaxis to ambulatory patients and all the way through to hospitalised patients.

This is because, being inhaled, the antibody can reach higher concentrations in the lung than systemic antibodies.

Still, Mr Pairet conceded that it might not just be lack of penetration that has scuppered antibodies in the hospital setting. “It is possible that what creates severe disease is tissue damage, and it might be too late for an antibody to work. In that case, neither the intravenous or inhaled antibodies will work. But we will test this hypothesis.”

Aside from BI 767551, Boehringer has little else to show for its work in Covid-19, despite trumpeting the fact that it started R&D for potential therapies over a year ago.

Another project here was the TRPC6 inhibitor BI 764198, which went into phase 2 last October. But Mr von Baumbach admitted that results with that project had disappointed, and the group terminated development in Covid-19; trials in kidney disease are ongoing.

Boehringer’s final potential weapon against the pandemic is its stroke drug alteplase, which is in phase 2/3; the theory is that this could treat the thrombi that can kill severe Covid-19 patients. The group’s IPF drug Ofev is also being tested, but only in investigator-sponsored trials.

According to Mr von Baumbach, last year Boehringer spent €40-50m on Covid-19 research. He expects the spend in 2021 to be “significantly higher”.

Selected anti-Covid-19 antibodies with novel delivery
Project Company Route of admin Setting Status
BI 767551/ DZIF-10c Boehringer Ingelheim/Cologne University Hospital/University of Marburg/German Center for Infection Research Inhalation Treatment &  prophylaxis Ph1/2, NCT04631705; infused version also in ph1/2, NCT04631666
COVI-DROPS/ STI-2099 Sorrento Therapeutics Intranasal  Treatment IND filed Nov 2020
AR-711  Aridis Pharmaceuticals Inhalation  Treatment Ph1/2/3 trial slated for H2 2021
AR-713  Aridis Pharmaceuticals Inhalation  Treatment (targets variants) Ph1/2/3 trial slated for H2 2021
Invisimask Eureka Therapeutics Intranasal Prophylaxis Mouse data reported in Dec 2020; IND in preparation
NI007 Neurimmune/Ethris Inhalation Treatment Deal signed in April 2020; no apparent clinical work yet
Source: Evaluate Pharma & company releases.

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