Recently, Chinese researchers at Peking University have reported positive benefits of using a drug they have been developing since the early days on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The drug may help in creating a proper coronavirus treatment and control the crisis without a vaccine.
The director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, Sunney Xie said that the team of researchers testing the drug has found it to be effective in animals.
The new drug is different from other proposed medicines for coronavirus treatment at the moment because it contains neutralizing antibodies obtained directly from the human immune system.
“When we injected neutralizing antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” Xie explained.
The findings of the study, which appear in the journal Cell, show that taking the drug may shorten the time needed for recovery from COVID-19 as well as provide immunity from the virus temporarily.
According to the researchers, discovering antibodies for coronavirus treatment in recovered patients is difficult using techniques used in virology or immunology which is why they looked for approaches using single-cell sequencing.
By using single-cell genomics, the researchers were then able to find neutralizing antibodies in the people who had been previously infected. This discovery did not only help in creating the current drug in testing but can effectively make a ‘cure’ for the coronavirus.
Currently, the drug is still being tested but the team states that it will be available in the market by the end of this year and can help in avoiding the threat of a rise in cases due to outbreaks in winter.
The clinical trial for the drug is being set up and will take place in the coming months. However, since China has controlled the coronavirus spread to a significant extent, the trial will take place in Australia since a higher number of patients is required.
So far, the researchers are expecting positive results and are hoping that the neutralizing antibodies discovered by them can be turned into a safe drug for coronavirus treatment.
At the same time, Chinese sources have reported that around five trials testing different vaccines for COVID-19 treatment are also being set up but they are likely to take a longer time in comparison.
In accordance with the World Health Organization, developing an effective medicine for controlling coronavirus spread can take around twelve to fifteen months as the virus is not completely understood by the medical community yet.
Additionally, another proposed treatment for COVID-19 is the use of blood plasma obtained from patients who have recovered from the infection. Scientists have noted positive effects in seven hundred patients who were given plasma in China.
However, Xie explains that plasma treatment cannot be done at a large-scale as the supply is not enough to meed the demand which is why developing an effective drug is better. The drug in testing contains fourteen neutralizing antibodies and can be produced on a large scale.
Using neutralizing antibodies in medicines is not a new practice, according to the researchers, as the same approach was used to develop a treatment for other viral infections including the Ebola virus and HIV.
Secondly, a similar drug had also played a fundamental role in controlling a previous outbreak caused by Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which is an infection caused by another coronavirus virus.
Therefore, the same approach can also be used for developing a drug to control coronavirus spread by adding it to the treatment plan as well as using it as preventive medicine.