With the coronavirus vaccine still months away, companies are rushing to test the next best thing: drugs that deliver antibodies to fight the virus right away without having to train the immune system to create them.
Antibodies are proteins that the body makes during an infection; they attach to a virus and help it be removed. The vaccine works by tricking the body into thinking there is an infection so that it produces antibodies and remembering how to do it if the error actually appears.
But it can take a month or two after the vaccination or infection for the most effective antibodies to form. The experimental drugs handled by giving concentrated versions of the specific drugs that worked best against coronavirus in laboratory and animal tests.
“A vaccine takes time to work, to produce antibodies. But when you provide an antibody, you get immediate protection, ”said Dr. Myron Cohen, a virologist at the University of North Carolina. “If we can make them in large concentrations, in large tanks in the antibody factory … then we can bypass the immune system.”;
These medications are thought to last for a month or more and provide quick, temporary immunity to people at high risk of infection, such as health workers and family members of the infected person. COVID-19 infection. If they proved effective and if the vaccine did not succeed or did not protect it as hoped, then the drug could eventually be considered for wider use, possibly for teachers or other groups.
They are also being tested as a treatment, to help the immune system and prevent severe symptoms or death.
Dr. Marshall Lyon, an infectious disease specialist who is helping them test such a drug, said: “Hopefully we can target people in their first week of illness and we can treat them with antibodies and prevent them from getting sick. at Emory University in Atlanta.
Having such a tool “will be a really important thing in our fight against COVID,” Cohen said.
Vaccines are considered the key to controlling the virus, which has been confirmed to infect more than 20 million people worldwide and kill more than 738,000. Several companies are racing to develop vaccines, but the results of the massive final trials needed to evaluate them are many months away.
Dr Janet Woodcock, an official at the US Food and Drug Administration who is leading government efforts to accelerate COVID-19 therapies, said: “Antibody drugs“ are very promise “. Major studies are underway and some answers will be available in early fall.
One company, Eli Lilly, that has already started making its own antibody drugs, is betting that the studies that are underway will show positive results.
“Our goal is to get something out as soon as possible,” said Lilly’s scientific director, Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, and have hundreds of thousands of pills ready by fall.
Another company has developed an antibody drug against Ebola – Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. – is currently testing a drug for coronavirus.
Christos Kyratsous, a Regeneron microbiologist who helped lead this work, said: “The success of our Ebola program gives us some confidence that we could be able to ability to do this again.
Regeneron’s medication uses two antibodies to increase the chance of a drug’s action even as the virus evolves to evade the action of an antibody.
Lilly is testing two different single antibody drugs – one from Canadian company AbCellera and the other from a Chinese company, Junshi Biosciences. In July, Junshi said no safety concerns emerged in 40 healthy people who tried it, and larger studies are underway.
Others are working on antibody drugs including Amgen and Adaptive Biotechnology. Tychan Biotechnology Company Pte Ltd. Singapore is also testing an antibody drug and has similar products being developed for Zika virus and yellow fever.
The nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci said: “I am very optimistic” about these drugs. “I am very happy about the experience we have with Ebola,” where the drugs are working.
What could happen?
The antibodies may not reach all the places in the body where they need to work, such as deep in the lungs. All antibody drugs are given intravenously and must go through the bloodstream wherever needed.
The virus can mutate to avoid antibodies – the reason Regeneron is testing a combination of two antibodies that bind to the virus in different places to prevent its escape.
Lilly is stuck with one type of antibody because the production capacity is essentially cut in half to make the two, and “you’ll have less dosage,” Skovronsky said. If a single antibody is active, “we can treat twice as many people,” he said.
The antibodies may not last long enough. If they fade within a month, they can still be treated because COVID-19 usually resolves during that time. But as a precaution, it may not be practical if the infusion is administered more frequently than every month or two.
A San Francisco company, Vir Biotechnology Inc., says it designed antibodies to last longer than usual to avoid this problem. GlaxoSmithKline has invested 250 million dollars in Vir to test them.
Taking higher doses may also help. If half of the antibodies disappear after a month, “if you give twice as much, you will be able to protect for two months,” says Lilly’s Skovronsky.
Great fear: Antibodies can do the opposite of what was hoped for and actually enhance the virus’s ability to enter cells or stimulate the immune system in a way that makes the person worse. That is a theoretical concern that has not been seen in testing to date, but large, definitive experiments are needed to prove safety.
“The best we could say, the antibodies were very helpful,” Lyon said.
Marilynn Marchione can be followed on Twitter: @MMarchioneAP
The Associated Press Department of Science and Health receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Division. The AP is solely responsible for all content.