Researchers at China’s Peking University have announced that they are developing a treatment capable of blocking COVID-19, without need for a vaccine.
Their drug works giving patients 14 neutralizing antibodies that prevent the virus from infecting cells and spreading. Successfully tested on animal models, current results suggest that it may be able to significantly shorten recovery times.
“The drug has been successful at the animal testing stage. When we injected neutralising antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” Sunney Xie, director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics. “The hope is these neutralised antibodies can become a specialised drug that would stop the pandemic,”
Plans to put the drug under clinical trials are now underway. As cases in China have dwindled in recent months, the researchers intend to conduct them on patients in Australia and further afield. Xie says that should all go to plan, the drug should be available for widespread use later this year; in time for a potential of a second wave during the winter.
Beyond this treatment, China already has five vaccine candidates in human trials. However, due to their remaining 12-18 month timelines, drug companies and research labs alike are keen to find other avenues to curb the virus’s spread.
Previously, scientists pointed out the potential benefits of injecting infected individuals with blood (and therefore, antibodies) from individuals who have already recovered from the virus. They hoped that the new antibodies would boost patients’ immunity and help them recover faster. Although showing ‘very good therapeutic effects’ among over 700 patients across China who received the therapy, due to limited supply of blood plasma, the treatment is not scalable.
This is why Peking University’s antibody treatment may be a promising way to curb the spread of the COVID-19. Unlike blood transfusions, the 14 antibodies developed by the researchers can be mass-produced. Thus, should clinical trials show their effectiveness, they may become key in curbing the virus’s spread.