Biotech firm says COVID-19 treatment could be ready by summer

Published: May. 6, 2020 at 11:41 AM CDT
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A biotech company says it might have a treatment for coronavirus available by the end of summer.

It relies on something you've likely never heard of, based on a concept from a century ago, with a high-tech twist.

The key to making a brand-new drug for COVID-19 could be from a vial of blood from Eli Epstein, a man who recovered from coronavirus.

Now doctors at the Rockefeller University in New York City are searching his blood for just the right antibodies.

"We really want something very potent," said Dr. Michel Nussenzweig with the Rockefeller University. "Potent means can neutralize, kill the virus."

It's a twist on the use of convalescent plasma, where someone who's recovered from COVID-19 gives blood directly to someone who's sick.

That can work, but it's old technology. Dr. Emil Von Behring won a Nobel Prize for his research on convalescent plasma in 1901.

The new approach uses monoclonal antibodies, and it's cutting edge.

When someone is sick with COVID-19, antibodies inside their blood fight off the virus. After the person recovers, they donate blood.

Scientists select the most powerful antibodies and clone them and turn it into a drug.

IT's one of the hottest areas in COVID-19 research.

Companies in New York and San Francisco, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, even the department of defense and many more are involved in monoclonal antibody research.

"These are all distinct, hitting the same site, but distinct antibodies," Dr. James Crowe, with Vanderbilt University, said.

The treatment could possibly prevent infection, or treat those already sick.

Vanderbilt's lead researcher on the project, Dr. James Crowe, specializes in vaccines, but he says monoclonal antibody research will be faster.

"I think antibodies will be finished first, and will be the bridge toward longer immunity, which will be conferred by vaccines," Dr. Crowe said.

So fast that the pharmaceutical company Regeneron says they might be able to have their monoclonal antibody drug on the market by the end of the summer. Their technology is already used to treat cancer, arthritis and asthma.

"I think the more groups we have working on it all the better and the more shots on goal we have for getting an effective prevention or treatment," Dr. James Crowe, with Vanderbilt University, said.

The hope is high for this old therapy turned new.

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