By Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – Shares of Norway’s BerGenBio more than doubled on Wednesday after a cancer drug it is developing was selected for a British trial of potential COVID-19 treatments, the latest instance of a firm seeking to re-purpose a medicine to fight the pandemic.

BerGenBio hopes to get an early indication of its drug bemcentinib’s effectiveness in treating the most vulnerable COVID-19 patients, the company said. The drug was originally designed to interfere with a tumour’s ability to suppress the body’s immune response against it.

The company said the trial is part of its participation in the UK’s ACCORD initiative, short for Accelerating COVID-19 Research & Development.

BerGenBio joins numerous other pharmaceutical firms coming forward daily with proposals to redirect existing medicines, or new ones under development, to the fight against the novel coronavirus, since there are now no approved treatments.

“We have been aware of bemcentinib’s anti-viral potential for some time, as demonstrated in preclinical models against viruses such as Ebola and Zika, with recent data expanding this to SARS-CoV-2,” BerGenBio said in a statement.

The study will test the medicine in 120 hospitalised patients, with half getting the drug and half receiving standard treatment, across six public hospitals in Britain.

The study is led by the University of Southampton and is funded by Britain’s Department of Health and Social Care and UK Research and Innovation.

The shares were up 158% in early trade to 54 Norwegian crowns ($5.20). At 0906 GMT they were trading at 39.60 crowns, up 89.02% from Tuesday’s close of 20.95 crowns.

(Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt, writing by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, editing by Jason Neely and John Miller)