A Chinese laboratory has been developing a drug it believes has the power to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to a halt.
A drug being tested by scientists at Peking University could not only shorten the recovery time for those infected, but even offer short-term immunity from the coronavirus, researchers said.
Sunney Xie (謝曉亮), director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, said that the drug had been successful in animal testing.
“When we injected neutralizing antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” Xie said. “That means this potential drug has [a] therapeutic effect.”
The drug uses neutralizing antibodies — produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells — which Xie’s team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients.
A study on the team’s research, published on Sunday in the scientific journal Cell, suggested that using the antibodies provides a potential “cure” for the disease and shortens recovery time.
Xie said his team had been working “day and night” searching for the antibody.
“Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology,” he said. “When we realized that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralizing antibody we were thrilled.”
The drug should be ready for use later this year, he added, in time for any potential winter outbreak of the coronavirus, which has infected 4.8 million people and killed more than 318,000.
“Planning for the clinical trial is under way,” Xie said, adding that it would be carried out in Australia and other nations since cases have dwindled in China, offering fewer people for testing.
“The hope is these neutralized antibodies can become a specialized drug that would stop the pandemic,” he said.
China already has five potential vaccines at the human-trial stage, a health official said last week, but the WHO has warned that developing a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.
Scientists have also touted the potential benefits of plasma — a blood fluid — from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the coronavirus, enabling the body’s defenses to attack it.
More than 700 patients have received plasma therapy in China, a process which authorities said showed “very good therapeutic effects.”
“However, it [plasma] is limited in supply,” Xie said, adding that the 14 neutralizing antibodies used in his team’s drug could be put into mass production quickly.
The new drug could even offer short-term protection against COVID-19.
The study showed that if the neutralizing antibody was injected before the mice were infected with the coronavirus, the mice stayed free of infection and no virus was detected.
That could offer temporary protection for medical workers for a few weeks, which Xie said the team is hoping to “extend to a few months.”
More than 100 vaccines for COVID-19 are being worked on globally, but as the process of vaccine development is more demanding, Xie is hoping that the new drug could be a faster and more efficient way to stop the pandemic.
“We would be able to stop the pandemic with an effective drug, even without a vaccine,” he said.
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