Amgen is testing several drugs from its vast stable of existing pharmaceuticals to see if any can help patients suffering from COVID-19, with some starting clinical trials, CEO Robert Bradway said on Tuesday.
Doctors have already discovered that COVID-19 can set off an overreaction in the immune systems of some patients, leading to serious respiratory complications and death. Amgen owns several drugs aimed at calming the immune system which are used to treat autoimmune disorders like psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis.
“We’re studying a couple of therapies,” Bradway said speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health virtual conference. “We have a product called Otezla which we think might help to address the overreaction of the immune system and that is a product that’s just getting underway in clinical studies now.”
The company is also looking at so-called TNF inhibitors, which block another type of immune system overreaction, Bradway said. “We’ll watch with interest where those studies wind up,” he said. “We have a couple of different ways to try to help ameliorate what looks to be a maladaptive immune response as the disease gets far advanced.”
Speaking of the potential for immune response treatments overall to COVID-19, Bradway said: “I’m optimistic that through time, we’ll be able to bring down the risk of death.”
The entire pharma industry is focused on combatting the pandemic. Drug companies are working on 179 different potential vaccine candidates and more than 260 other treatments to help victims of the highly contagious coronavirus outbreak. So far, almost 12 million people worldwide including 3 million in the U.S. have been confirmed to be infected with the disease. More than 500,000 people, including over 130,000 in the U.S., have died.
Amgen acquired Otezla last year from Celgene, which had to sell off the drug to assuage antitrust regulators reviewing its merger with Bristol Myers Squibb. Amgen paid $13.4 billion for rights to Otezla, which is mainly used to reduce psoriasis, a condition also caused by the immune system overreacting.
Overall, Bradway said he was optimistic about his industry’s response to the pandemic, even if there has bene some duplication and lack of coordination.
“The good news is we’re making fast progress and hopefully some of these therapies will make a difference,” he said. “The challenge is that it’s probably not as well coordinated as it could be.”