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In early January, Chinese scientists found “effective” antibodies capable of blocking the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) – the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease – from entering the cells, after analyzing antibodies taken from recovered COVID-19 patients.
According to Zhang Linqi from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, a drug produced from antibodies created by his team is more effective than other current approaches such as plasma treatment. Zhang told Reuters that his team and a group at the 3rd People’s Hospital in Shenzhen have isolated 206 monoclonal antibodies which have a “strong” ability to bind with the virus protein.
The team also carried out tests to check whether the virus can be prevented from entering the cell. Further narrowing down the findings, two out of the four antibodies were found to have been effective in preventing the virus from penetrating the cell.
The team is to combine the most powerful antibodies which could stop the virus from mutating. If successful, developers will then start to mass-produce the drug to be sent for preclinical trial phases on animals and eventually on humans.
The antibodies are not a vaccine, but can be given to high-risk individuals such as older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease with the aim of preventing them from contracting the virus.
No proven treatment yet
Several drugs are being used for the treatment of COVID-19, including antiretroviral drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, antimalarials hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and chloroquine (CQ) as well medications used for swine flu (H1N1).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are currently no proven medications or vaccines which are effective in the treatment or prevention of the coronavirus.
Kevzara for possible treatment
Pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and Regeneron have begun clinical trials of a drug called Kevzara, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, to be tested on COVID-19 patients outside of the United States. Kevzara is an immune system-modifying drug known as a monoclonal antibody.
Enrolments for the mid-to-late stage trial is underway in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Canada and Russia. Clinical trials in the US commenced in late March 2020.
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