Shanghai Junshi delays drug trials, focuses on COVID-19 treatment

BEIJING, Nov 13 (Reuters) - A shortage of lab monkeys and a focus on developing a COVID-19 treatment have prompted Shanghai Junshi Biosciences to push back clinical trials of some other drugs, an executive at U.S. drugmaker Eli Lilly’s Chinese partner said.

Junshi’s experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment, JS016, is in early to mid-stage trials in the United States and Eli Lilly plans to combine it with another candidate and apply for a U.S. emergency use authorization later this month.

Feng Hui, chief operating officer at Junshi said in a call with investors on Friday that the monkeys used to evaluate the safety of drugs and how they work in living systems before they can be tested in humans had been in tight supply between February and June, partly because of competing research by firms and institutes into COVID-19 treatments.

As his company prioritised finding enough animals on which to test the antibody treatment, it delayed applications for clinical trials of some of its non-coronavirus drugs in the pipeline, Feng said.

It had originally planned to file applications for clinical trials of those drugs in the second half of this year but the schedule is now pushed back to the first quarter of 2021, he added, without elaborating on how many and which drugs were involved.

“Overall the firm’s research and development progress is smooth,” Feng said.

Many global pharmaceutical companies have rushed to develop vaccines and treatments against COVID-19 at an unprecedented speed this year, as the pandemic has killed more than 1.2 million people globally.

There are around 200 experimental COVID-19 vaccines being researched and more than 40 of them are being studied on humans, according to the World Health Organization. (Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Tony Munroe; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Kirsten Donovan)