Dr. Joshua Hare, Longeveron co-founder, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss COVID-19 variants, treatments, previous coronavirus pandemics, and the path of the Omicron variant.
- We're going to keep this discussion going as we invite into the stream Dr. Joshua Hare, Longeveron's co-founder. And we appreciate your joining us because we all want to understand what's coming next and hearing about vaccines and those specific to Omicron are encouraging, but then we get the headlines out of Europe about this new sub variant. What do you make of all of this? I mean, how much longer do we live in this kind of pandemic environment?
JOSHUA HARE: Thanks for having me on the show. Just by way of background, let me tell you the perspective I'm speaking to you. I'm the co-founder of Longeveron, which is a NASDAQ company that makes a product called Lomecel-B. It's a cell based therapeutic product and we are advancing it in aging frailty, Alzheimer's disease, a rare pediatric condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and of course, COVID-19 pneumonia.
The reason that's important is because to get to the point about COVID-19, what we're clearly seeing is that the virus can rapidly mutate and create these new variants. And the new variants are in essence, have a new disease presentation. They all are respiratory viruses, however, and either effect the upper respiratory tract or the lung, which is what makes them so powerful and so dangerous.
So it's very hard to know how many mutations we'll get and how many different variants we'll get before the pandemic goes endemic, which is what happened with influenza over 100 years ago. So now influenza is a phenomenon that affects us every year and I expect that, that is likely what's going to happen with COVID, with the different variants. What's important is we need to have treatments that can treat the disease that are independent of the variants. Right now, we're very focused on variant specific treatments.
- Right. And doctor Hare, to that point, Longeveron has a medicine currently in clinical trials to address acute respiratory distress syndrome due to COVID-19 or influenza, as you were mentioning. Now if I get this correct, this does not treat COVID directly, but addresses a condition that could stem from COVID. How far along are you in this trial and how would this be used and help the pandemic situation?
JOSHUA HARE: Yes, so we're at early stage testing. We are doing a very small study of about 35 patients right now, so it's essentially a phase I study, it's a proof of concept study. The idea is that when the virus gets in the lung and causes the viral pneumonia, we need something that can damp down that cytokine storm and help the lungs heal.
This could work for other parts of the brain that are inflammatory. And the valuable thing about this strategy is it does have an antiviral effect, not as potent as the monoclonal antibodies, but it does help the virus clear from the system. So unfortunately, we're at a very early stage.
- When we think about the medications that will be front and center post-pandemic, is there a timeline by when we're looking at, is it a year or is it two years, where we do treat this like the flu? And, I'm just using this hypothetically, give me the Tamiflu when I walk into the pharmacy.
JOSHUA HARE: Well, that is sort of where everything's gone. It's really been a very impressive track record of what we've been able to do in bio-medicine, to come up with in under a calendar year, do phase III trials for vaccines. The vaccine technology is also very impressive because it's based on the RNA sequence of the viruses. So a manufacturer of a vaccine, as we just heard about Moderna, can quickly change the vaccine to match the new sequence of the new variants.
Also, now there are two antiviral drugs on the market, which if you will, are analogous to the Tamiflu you talked about. There's a drug from Merck and a drug from Pfizer. So I think we're coming to the recognition in the field that we have to transition to think about COVID-19 as a chronic illness something that will likely come back every year. And for all we know, there'll be a completely new type of virus that emerges 10 years from now.
Remember that COVID-19 is not the first coronavirus pandemic that we've had in the 21st century, it's actually the third. Fortunately, the first two were much smaller. So but I just want to emphasize one other thing. There will always be a segment of the patients who get the viral pneumonia who are going to be the sicker ones and the ones who are likely to die. We need to think about those patients as well and also have a strategy for those individuals and that's where we're trying to position Lomecel-B.
- In terms of future mutations we may see of the coronavirus, do we have reason to believe at this point that future variants that are going to come next are going to be causing less severe illness, something similar to what we've been seeing with Omicron, but the more contagious or is it going to be something more like what we saw with the last Delta wave? Is there any data that we can really pull from at this point to make those predictions?
JOSHUA HARE: There's really no way to predict and that's what's scary, because we've seen how serious viruses can be with certain types of viral outbreaks. Now fortunately, there's a school of thought that the more serious the virus is, the more quickly it is to die out. Because from a virus's perspective, if it has a perspective, it's not really a thinking entity, but it's designed to survive as long as possible. So some have predicted that Omicron is actually the ideal virus because it's very infectious, so it can spread very quickly and it's not as severe as the earlier strain.
So this is potentially a strain that could stick around for a very, very long time. Now unfortunately, there always is that tip of the iceberg of the group of patients who get very sick from it, and that's what we're seeing with Omicron. Although it's less severe than Delta, it's affecting many, many more people. So therefore, the numbers of hospitalizations and the numbers of deaths are up ticking as well, even with this less severe virus.
- We appreciate your time and thank you for joining us today. Dr. Joshua Hare, Longeveron's co-founder. All the best to you and your team.