Israel’s Redhill Biopharma gets green light for experimental COVID-19 treatment
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Israel’s Redhill Biopharma gets green light for experimental COVID-19 treatment

Firm’s Opaganib drug administered to coronavirus patient for the first time in Israel, gets approval from Italian authorities under compassionate use guidelines

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus evacuate a suspected coronavirus patient to the new coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, in Jerusalem on April 3, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus evacuate a suspected coronavirus patient to the new coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, in Jerusalem on April 3, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israeli biopharmaceutical firm RedHill Biopharma Ltd. on Monday said it had administered its experimental drug Opaganib to a COVID-19 patient in Israel for the first time, and received a green light from Italian officials to use the drug to treat the disease in Italy.

The drug has the potential to treat symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but is not a vaccine or meant to build immunity or prevent infections in any way.

The Israeli patient, who is suffering respiratory symptoms at an unnamed hospital in Israel, took the drug under compassionate use guidelines with approval from the Health Ministry. More COVID-19 patients in Israel are expected to be treated with the drug in the coming days, Redhill said in a statement

Compassionate use is when medical personnel treat patients with experimental drugs outside of clinical trials, under special circumstances, and with the approval of medical authorities.

Opaganib is an investigational drug, meaning it has undergone testing, but has not yet been approved for widespread use.

The drug is administered orally, is aimed at treating cancer, inflammation and gastrointestinal issues, and carries out antiviral activities. It is is a selective inhibitor that targets the protein sphingosine kinase-2, which can hamper cancer growth and pathological inflammation, and could block viral replication.

It has been tested on non-COVID-19 subjects in the US in ongoing and completed Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials. Redhill mainly focuses on gastrointestinal diseases.

Opaganib was tested in a Phase 1 clinical study on patients with advanced solid tumors and is being investigated for the treatment of bile duct cancer, both individually and in combination with hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by the White House as a potential coronavirus treatment, against the advice of medical officials. Opaganib is also in a Phase 2 study for the treatment of prostate cancer.

“The treatment of COVID-19 patients with Opaganib is supported by pre-clinical data demonstrating its unique anti-viral activity in a number of other viruses, as well as its anti-inflammatory activities and potential to reduce lung inflammation. In addition, clinical data to date have indicated safety and tolerability in healthy volunteers and cancer patients,” said Redhill’s medical director, Dr. Mark L. Levitt.

Italian authorities approved Opaganib for use on some 160 COVID-19 patients with life-threatening symptoms at three hospitals in northern Italy under compassionate use guidelines, Redhill said Monday.

The Italian National Institute for Infectious Diseases and Central Italian Ethics Committee approved the drug for immediate use.

The firm is preparing to ramp-up manufacturing of Opaganib and is holding talks with the US and other countries about its potential use in the pandemic. Pre-clinical data found that the drug had the potential to reduce pneumonia, which is responsible for many COVID-19 deaths.

Redhill shares, which trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker RDHL, surged over 28 percent by Monday afternoon. The company is based in Tel Aviv and Raleigh, North Carolina.

RedHill was founded in 2009 by Dror Ben-Asher and Ori Shilo, two kibbutz dwellers turned investment bankers and entrepreneurs.

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