NantKwest and its sister firm ImmunityBio have partnered for the development of potential vaccines and therapeutics against Covid-19.

Currently, the companies are in discussions with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The partnership combines NantKwest’s off-the-shelf, cell-based therapeutics expertise with ImmunityBio’s vaccine development and natural killer cell activation capabilities.

NantKwest and ImmunityBio will leverage their respective resources for the design and development of both vaccines and drugs.

NantKwest and ImmunityBio chairman and CEO Patrick Soon-Shiong said: “We’re in a race against time, but I am confident that, as a result of the incredible hard work the NantKwest, ImmunityBio, and the global scientific communities are undertaking, we will find effective therapeutics and vaccines against this coronavirus.”

The companies have developed immunomodulator candidates for mild, moderate and severe or critically ill Covid-19 patients.

NantKwest’s haNK and ImmunityBio’s N-803 are for patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.

HaNK are CD-16, off-the-shelf natural killer cells said to boost antibody killing of infected cells when administered alone or in combination with convalescent plasma (CP).

Meanwhile, N-803 is an interleukin 15 (IL-15) ‘superagonist’ cytokine that induces natural killer cells and CD8+ T-cells.

The companies are also working on NantKwest’s MSCs, bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), to reduce ‘cytopathic storm’ in critically ill patients on ventilator support.

While investigational new drug (IND) filings with the FDA for trials of haNK and N-803  are pending, NantKwest submitted an IND for MSCs and expects to start trials in the second half of this year.

Furthermore, the companies are leveraging ImmunityBio’s Ad5 adenovirus vaccine platform to develop a vaccine vector against Covid-19.

The platform enables four deletions, facilitating multiple homologous doses. It allows Ad5 vector to act as a prime and a boost therapy.

In phase I and II trials involving immunosuppressed cancer patients, the platform demonstrated safety, said the company.