Fake news hits Covid-19 as Sorrento Therapeutics develop a "cure"
Updated: May 30, 2020
Today Fox News in an "Exclusive" story, reported that Sorrento Therapeutics, a small-cap biotechnology company based in San Diego with a market cap of roughly $500 million dollars claimed that it had discovered a molecule that maintains"100% inhibition" of COVID-19."
"We want to emphasize there is a cure" declared Dr. Henry Ji, founder and CEO of Sorrento who decided to go all in on this revelation. For background, Sorrento is a company that went public in 2007, has no approved products, and had an EBIDTA loss of $250M in 2019 (along with cash of $22million and long-term debt of $199 million). Last week, the company announced a partnership with the highly respected Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York for studying an antibody cocktail in Covid-19 patients that would evaluate the treatment and the prophylaxis of Covid-19 infection.
Sorrento has been studying "neutralizing antibodies." These molecules are artificially created products that can bind to a toxin and negate its detrimental effect on human cells. Neutralizing antibodies for Covid-19 are those that bind to the live virus cell in humans and prevent its effect. The way companies are approaching this in Covid-19 is to bind to the virus and prevent the virus from going into human cell where the virus needs to go in order to replicate and create more virus cells. When a virus cannot replicate, it cannot increase its cell number and is not nearly as destructive. If the virus only possesses a small number of active cells in the human host, the virus will die out and be rendered harmless to the human.
Today, the company gave a press release where it claimed that one of its potential neutralizing antibody candidates, STI-1499 was unique in stopping the growth of the Covid-19 virus. If this were true, the company with no history of approved products would be claiming it has leap-frogged all the big players in the therapeutic antibody space including Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, the company that produced a similar product for Ebola over 5 years ago and essentially did cure that dreadful disease. Regeneron which has a $64 billion market cap based largely on extensive experience with multiple successfully developed antibody products, has already been planning for human trials for its Covid-19 product and will start next month. Sorrento has not given any guidance on when human trials would start and none are listed on clinicaltrials.gov., the website devoted to active clinical trials.
Curing Covid-19 would certainly be really good news if it were true, right? So is it true? Well, Dr. Ji (a Ph.D, not a medical doctor if you are keeping track) is basing his unbridled
optimism on laboratory in vitro data (that means from studies in test tube experiments). In biotech terms, at the average product with in vitro success that goes on to FDA approval is less than 10%. To be approved does not usually mean "cure" so the face value probability is likely to be much less than 10%.
However, the word "breakthrough" has a strong positive connotation for a reason and some treatments and discoveries should be recognized as such. Sorrento is seeking government funding to increase its ability to study and produce its products on a large-scale. Positive press will help in that endeavor.
The press release closes with this: "We at Sorrento are working day and night to complete the steps necessary to get this product candidate approved and available to the waiting public," stated Dr. Henry Ji, Chairman and CEO of Sorrento.
They are certainly giving themselves the positive press.