June 2, 2020 / 7:31 AM / a month ago

South Korea expects human trials of Celltrion's potential COVID-19 treatment in Europe

FILE PHOTO:The logo of Celltrion is seen at company's headquarters in Incheon, South Korea, October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea expects clinical trials of Celltrion Inc’s experimental COVID-19 treatment to begin in Europe next month and aims to secure sizable supplies of the drug by the first half of next year, a senior health official said on Tuesday.

Drugmakers worldwide are rushing to develop treatments for the flu-like illness caused by the new coronavirus that has killed more than 374,000 globally since it first emerged late last year in China.

Celltrion said on Monday its experimental antibody COVID-19 treatment demonstrated an up to 100-fold reduction in viral load of the disease in animal testing, saying it aims to start human clinical trials in late July.

“It would be difficult to conduct clinical trials at home due to low number of new cases and we understand discussions are underway with European countries for trials,” Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said on its daily briefing.

Kwon said the process would pave the way for South Korea to secure sizable supplies of the treatment by the first half of next year.

There is currently no treatments for COVID-19 and human trials of several existing antiviral drugs have yet to show full efficacy.

Eli Lilly and Co said on Monday it had started an early-stage trial to test its potential COVID-19 treatment, in the world’s first study of an antibody treatment against the disease.

U.S drugmaker Gilead Science Inc has reported promising early trial results for its treatment remdesivir, prompting emergency approval in the United States and Japan. South Korea also said last week it would request imports of remdesivir.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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