This Little Company Thinks It Can Beat Long Covid
A long list of patients want to be seen at the Oxford University clinic where Betty Raman studies people suffering from “Long Covid”—the breathlessness, fatigue, and depression that afflicts some who have recovered from Covid-19’s acute symptoms. It is as if their batteries no longer hold a charge.
That is why Raman agreed to collaborate with
(ticker: AXLA) to treat Long Covid patients with Axcella’s proprietary mix of amino acids, in a clinical trial announced Tuesday. Axcella has already shown promising evidence that its amino acid composition can improve metabolism in people with certain liver diseases. The new study will see if Axcella’s stuff can jump-start the cellular energy centers known as mitochondria, which malfunction in certain patients after infection by SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses.
Because Axcella’s amino acids have shown potential to improve mitochondrial function in other diseases, Raman told Barron’s, she is hopeful it might have some benefit for her Long Covid patients.
At Oxford, Raman uses an imaging tool called magnetic resonance spectroscopy to sensitively measure the energy metabolism in people’s muscles as they exercise. The new Phase 2 study will take those measurements for 40 Long Covid patients, before randomly deciding which get Axcella’s treatment and which receive a placebo. After four weeks. the study subjects will be tested again.
“We hope to be able to repair the battery and recharge it,” said Axcella Chief Executive Bill Hinshaw, Jr.
The Long Covid project was the headline news at a research update that Axcella hosted on Tuesday morning. The little Cambridge, Mass., company was founded more than a decade ago to find treatments for metabolic malfunctions and inflammatory diseases, using novel combinations of natural amino acids normally found in the body.
Axcella has two Phase 2 studies of its amino acid combos under way in patients with damaged livers, after initial trials showed improvement in blood glucose and inflammation levels. Its amino acids come in easy-to-drink powder mixes.
(MRNA). As the world’s most valuable biotech company, with a market capitalization of about $140 billion, Moderna is Flagship’s biggest success.
Axcella isn’t. Not yet, anyway. After an initial public offering at $20 in May 2019, Axcella stock has sunk below $3, for a market cap barely above $100 million. That’s not much above the value of the cash on Axcella’s balance sheet, which is also enough to see the firm through its clinical trials.
With so few expectations implied in its stock price, Axcella is a cheap way to bet on Afeyan and his Flagship colleagues.
And it shouldn’t take long to know if Axcella’s treatment can help with Long Covid. “This is a problem with huge significance for economies, as well as the healthcare systems,” says Oxford’s Raman. “The need to find treatments is pressing and urgent.”
Write to Bill Alpert at firstname.lastname@example.org