Beloit-based NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes is collaborating with Chicago-based Monopar Therapeutics to develop a possible treatment for severe COVID-19, the companies said Tuesday.
The project aims to use NorthStar’s expertise in medical radioisotopes to develop Monopar’s experimental monoclonal antibody, known as MNPR-101, which Monopar said has shown anticancer activity in animal testing.
MNPR-101, which hasn’t been submitted for approval, targets a humanized urokinase plasminogen activator receptor, or uPAR. The uPA system is selectively expressed on abnormally activated immune cells, the companies said in a statement.
“In response to coronavirus infection, these rogue immune cells produce pro-inflammatory cytokines that can cause runaway inflammation throughout the body, commonly referred to as a cytokine storm,” the statement said. The reaction is thought to be responsible for severe lung injury and other organ failure in patients with severe COVID-19.
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The companies plan to use a therapeutic radioisotope from NorthStar along with MNPR-101 to “create a highly selective agent that has the potential to kill aberrantly activated cytokine-producing immune cells,” the statement said.
The goal is to spare healthy cells while reducing the cytokine storm and its harmful systemic effects, the companies said.
“We are pleased to work together with Monopar in the battle against COVID-19,” said Stephen Merrick, CEO of NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes. “Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can develop a targeted radiopharmaceutical treatment that has the ability to prevent patients with severe COVID-19 from being placed on ventilators and from dying.”
NorthStar is one of two Rock County companies developing radioactive isotopes for medical imaging and therapies.
The other one is SHINE Medical Technologies, in Janesville. It is working to ensure domestic production of two isotopes involved in lung diagnostics and useful for determining the extent of disease in COVID-19 patients, spokesman Rod Hise said.
The companies are developing facilities to make molybdenum-99, or Mo-99. The isotope decays into technetium-99m, which is used to detect cancer, heart disease and other conditions in tens of millions of medical imaging procedures each year.
Other isotopes can be used in treatments, such as the one being studied for COVID-19.