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Open Orphan starts trials on nasal spray COVID-19 vaccines

Yahoo Finance’s Anjalee Khemlani speaks with Open Orphan Executive Chairman Cathal Friel about the company’s effort to create “quarantine facilities”, and its nasal vaccine trials.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Promising developments potentially on the vaccine front, there have been some questions about whether the coronavirus vaccines, the various vaccines, protected people from transmitting coronavirus, not just getting coronavirus, and there's a new study regarding the AstraZeneca drug that shows again some promising results on that front. Our Anjalee Khemlani is here with more on that as well as more on the fight against coronavirus generally. Anjalee?

- Thanks, Julie. Yeah, so we heard from AstraZeneca that they had some promising results about a gap, a longer gap, between the first and second dose, and that's something that obviously is of concern as we look to how companies can extend supply of the existing vaccine. Now, for theirs, we know that AstraZeneca is running up against some concern in the 65 and older population.

But meanwhile, there are new results which still require more data to analyze, say that they are able to see protection really strong passed a four week window in that sort of 4 to 12 week window that they're looking at, so could be possible that we see a longer distance of time between a first and second dose, and we also know that the results showed some reduction in the transmission, or slow transmission, of the virus itself, and that's something we still don't know in some of these other vaccines is whether or not they protect against transmission from a vaccinated individual.

So all really positive news coming out of there. Meanwhile, we are looking at sort of new types of vaccines. We know that there are individuals who can't get vaccinations, cannot get injections for a multitude of reasons, and so looking in that space, we got news out of Vaxart start this morning about its oral vaccine, and we also know that there is another trial that just started last month in the UK with a nasal vaccine. So I'm going to bring in now Cathal Friel who is the CEO of Open Orphan, which is based in the UK. Cathal, thanks so much for joining us today.

So looking at the reports about last month and the start of this nasal vaccine, tell me about what you're seeing in terms of interest and what the timeline looks like. I know it was just a phase one that started.

- Look, Open Orphan, PLC we're listed in the London and European stock markets. We're the world leader in testing vaccines, and we test all sorts of them, but the really interesting one we started, at Corgenix, phase one. As you say is needle-free. It's a nasal spray, but even more importantly, all the talk about how long were the first versions last because it's alive attenuated COVID vaccine, the funders believe it could give from 5 to 7 years protection which would be really interesting, and also would stop onwards infection.

So that trial kicked off, and we only announced this morning on the back of that, we're expanding our facilities to make room. Hopefully that one will come into a phase two [INAUDIBLE] trial with us this summer. But that's not confirmed. We're only hoping and expecting that may happen this summer.

- Yeah, walk me through this challenge trial. I know that you've already gotten a contract with the UK government late last year, and it's been a discussion, and it's been kind of controversial. We've talked about this before, but the government seems to be willing to go ahead. But with the vaccines already out now, is there still room to continue to use this method?

- Absolutely. With your previous thing, talking about the different vaccines, they're the first generation. And COVID-19 does change. The media says mutates. We call it as variations. So our belief going forward, we'd be told to take our flu job and take our annual COVID job, so there's needs for another generation. And basically, the need for human [INAUDIBLE] is that if half the world has been vaccinated, how are you going to test the next generation?

And that's where the human challenge program comes in. Human challenge, we take 100 healthy volunteers into two weeks in a quarantine. It's always a private hospital. And we replicate what takes a year in the world, and we can do that in six weeks. So we reduce it, a trial, from one to two years, or in the case of pandemic trial, like we had last year, from one year to six weeks.

- And the space that you've now been able to expand into looking at using an abandoned hotel, you've also converted a coffee shop to start recruiting volunteers. Tell me about this plan and ramping it up. What is the investment in it looking like, and what will you still have to do?

- Yeah, look, this is exciting, good news. We know this pandemic's been awful. Hotels have closed. Coffee shops have closed. So we have one of Europe's only 24-bed quarantine centers in London, and across the road, there was a 27-bed boutique hotel, which you're now looking at, and we've converted it very quickly to now 19 beds, full quarantine standard.

So it's a great use, has a great value, fabulous opportunity for us because the hotel was lying vacant. And likewise, there was a very large coffee shop in the basement of our building. We've converted that to volunteer recruitment. So it was a good news story, but the more even exciting news is now that frees up space.

Our existing quarantine clinic is booked out until Christmas with traditional-- that's RSV, influenza --quarantine studies, and these are all-- what we do is human challenge. And I repeat, human challenge is a-- is a six to eight week process, compared to 12 months to try and do it in the community in the world. And it's world-renowned because Britain, Great Britain, is the only place in the world that's been doing this going back to 1947. So our company's roots goes back to Salisbury Flu Clinic.

I know people say it's controversial. The US and people are watching us, but we've been doing it since 1947, we're the first place in the world. We're still awaiting regulatory approval, ethics approval. We remain optimistic that will happen in the coming month. If that happens, we're off to test the first of these next generation.

So I say next generation, there is no need for us to test existing ones who have passed. But there's a whole wave, I've just looked and there's over 200 COVID vaccines about to enter the clinic, and that's where we come in. We can bring them through in a matter of months rather than waiting a full year.

- Do you already have conversations ongoing with some of these companies, or already have deals in the works to start as soon as you get regulatory approval?

- As soon as we get regular approval, we could fill it 10 times over. Virtually every early stage COVID developer would like to get access, and that's what we're trying to encourage. This is a world pandemic. We're trying to choose wisely. Ultimately, it's going to be the British government.

They have bought our first three slots, so it's all up to the UK vaccine task force. I would emphasize the UK vaccine task force is probably the most successful organization in the world in choosing right in their vaccines and rolling it out. Just yesterday afternoon, I got-- we're all front line workers who are dealing with COVID patients --I got vaccinated.

And that is great. All of our staff in the process now have been vaccinated. I was the last one through, and our belief is that yeah, the UK government may-- we'll try and persuade them --to pick a next generation one, such as COVID or such as Corgenix. They're New York-based. They're a fast-knitting company that's backed by Jim Simons. He's probably the wealthiest, most famous hedge fund manager in the world. It's backed, actually really unusually, by Merck and Novartis, and guess what? The last time I checked the American Novartis are badly looking for a COVID vaccine.

So I think if you'd pick a stock-- that's a private company, but it's New York-based --we would be-- we're delighted to do their phase one. And we're fingers-crossed that the UK government may choose. If not, they may get the second slot. But it's exciting times because this is already the second generation of vaccines now working their way through the approval system.

- Absolutely, and I hope you're feeling well after that vaccine. Thank you so much Cathal Friel, Executive Chairman of Open Orphan. Thank you so much for joining us today.

- Anjalee, thank you for your time.

- Julie, back to you.

- Anjalee, thank you so much for bringing us that interview.