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Open Orphan PLC Q&A: Coronavirus challenge study model (LON:ORPH)

Open Orphan PLC (LON:ORPH) Chief Executive Officer Cathal Friel caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss the world’s first human coronavirus challenge study model.

Q1: We’ve just seen that you’ve begun the development of the world’s first commercial human coronavirus challenge study model. What can you tell us about Cathal?

A1: The company, we’ve made clear in the RNS, as much information as we can publicly make available, the company do a lot of work over 2/3 years ago on developing this particular challenge study model. As of today, we got a challenge study model, we’ve got two flu, two RSV, 1 HRV, 1 Asthma, 1 cough and 1 COPD viral challenge study model so we’ve now started work in recent days and that would be the world’s first coronavirus challenge model.

The first thing I want to add is we will not be infecting anybody with anything remotely like COVID-19 which, as we know, is toxic, it’s dangerous. Challenge study models are where you take the wild form of the virus, almost like an untamed wild horse, and you train it, you calm it and you make it a much safer version . As the RNS says, the worst any of our patients have might have a runny nose, it’ll be not the exact same thing but it’ll be a similar version with none of the toxicity.

Q2: So, what can you tell us about the funding?

A2: We’ve made it very clear, I’m a finance person at heart, I’m the biggest shareholder and I’ve put £2.5 million of my own cash plus lots of my friends cash into this company. The company hVIVO did put through £113 million, over half of what I would say was wasted, quite a bit of it was invested in a universal flu vaccine which we’ve sitting in the cupboard as kind of our lottery ticket we call it.

The funding is all investors cash raised recently is to make a profitable services company so the funding of this will come from third parties and we made it clear that we’re in a lucky position with a number of Chinese companies, early stage discussions, but who appear to be very keen to fund this piece of work.

It’s not hugely expensive, it’s on a couple of million piece of work and we’re not giving away our IP, we say we will give royalties on the sale of this particular challenge study model. So, very simple, it’s kind of like off-balance sheet funding, they’ll get an investment in the product and they get paid back by royalty and we get the product developed.

Q3: Given the importance and the high level of attention that COVID-19 is getting, you must be pleased Open Orphan is working on this study?

A3: I wouldn’t say pleased in a middle of a crisis, we’re happy to be assistance, it is a very tragic time for people. I would be much more optimistic than most of the media, I believe this issue will come, we’re very lucky that flu’s and viruses tend to disappear in Spring/Summer and guess what, we’re approaching Spring. The view is that coronavirus isn’t going away any time soon so there’s going to be lots of work over weeks, months and even years ahead.

So, we’re happy to be of service, we’re happy that we may have one of parts of the solution, there’s lots of parts, but we’re happy to be here but certainly we’ve tempered our expectations as we are dealing with a pretty challenging environment at the moment for everybody.

Q4: I think you’ve just alluded to this but what kind of timeline should we be looking at with this study?

A4: With this study, bear in mind Open Orphan have eight existing challenge study models, some of them can be used as test beds but this one is work in progress. It’s going to be over the summer months, it does take time to make sure we’ve tamed a harmless version, we will never be taking COVID-19 into our labs and we’ll never be putting it into the human candidates or volunteers.

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