Roche abandons Atea COVID antiviral partnership

Nov. 17, 2021

Roche Holding has walked away from its partnership with Atea Pharmaceuticals to jointly develop a COVID-19 antiviral pill, a month after the drug failed in a mid-stage study.

Roche and Atea teamed up last year to develop the oral treatment, AT-527, with Atea receiving an upfront payment of $350 million. Last month, the pair announced that the global phase 2 MOONSONG trial evaluating AT-527 in the outpatient setting failed to reduce the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus in patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 compared to placebo in the overall study population — of which approximately two-thirds of patients were low-risk with mild symptoms.

The race has been on to find an effective COVID antiviral. Earlier in Nov., Pfizer reported that its experimental oral antiviral pill cut rates of hospitalization and death by 89% in high-risk adults. Pfizer competitor Merck (MSD) and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced last month that Merck has submitted an EUA application to the U.S. FDA for an investigational oral antiviral, molnupiravir.

The Roche-Atea partnership will officially end in February, at which time the rights and licenses to AT-527 will return to Atea — but the Boston-based biopharma isn't giving up. Atea said it has the financial resources to continue to develop the treatment and expects data from a late-stage trial in the second half of 2022.