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Race to develop antibody drugs for COVID-19

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

Even at the record pace vaccines are moving, the first vaccine for COVID-19 might not be available until next year. And even if it is available, it will take longer for enough people within the population to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity and curb the spread. Companies such as Regeneron, Eli Lily, Amgen and Vir Biotechnology are leading the race to produce therapies that could give patients infected with COVID-19 short term protection. However, several experts believe that developing antibody drugs are vital.
At this time, Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir, which seems to help hasten recovery from COVID-19, but not entirely. There is no guarantee that these injectable biologic drugs won’t solve the pandemic. Yet, many believe that in combination with mass testing and tracing measures, these injectable biologic drugs could be a critical tool for keeping the disease in check.

When fighting off foreign invaders, our bodies make antibodies precisely produced for the task. The reason vaccines offer such long-lasting protection is they train the immune system to identify a pathogen, so immune cells remember and are ready to attack the virus when it appears. Monoclonal antibodies for coronavirus would take the place of the ones our bodies might produce to fight the disease. The manufactured antibodies would be infused into the body to either tamp down an existing infection, or to protect someone who has been exposed to the virus.

However, these drugs are synthetic versions of the convalescent plasma treatments that rely on antibodies from people who have recovered from infection. But the engineered versions are easier to scale because they’re manufactured in rats, rather than from plasma donors.

Yet, what brands antibodies unique in comparison to vaccines or antiviral drugs is their potential to both treat and protect against viral infections and could work as a short-term preventative for healthcare workers who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or as a treatment for people who are already sick. But it is up to creators to figure out exactly when is the best time is to interfere with an antibody drug. More persuasively, antibodies will deliver the greatest value for the people at the highest risk like healthcare workers or people who are old or immuno-compromised.

Over the years of research, it is shown that some vaccines are only effective in a part of population. But making a vaccine takes time, and they don’t kick in immediately. So, proving the monoclonal antibodies can treat patients with COVID-19 disease can be much faster and easier than showing a preventive benefit. As with vaccines, antibodies would have to succeed in much longer tests to fully show they can prevent infections. Vaccine aside, the only treatments granted emergency use by the FDA thus far are the antiviral remdesivir and the generic malaria pill hydroxychloroquine.

Regeneron, Amgen, Vir and Eli Lilly are each using different methods to screen for and develop their antibodies. The initial experiments may lead to different type of products where one type of antibody versus a cocktail of two or three. The antibodies are designed to mimic the ones our bodies make versus those that are modified in some way to improve their properties. Modifying an antibody could help it last longer, but make it look more foreign to the immune system, which could lead to potential problems.
What makes antibodies unique compared to vaccines or antiviral drugs is their potential to both treat and protect against viral infections. The idea is that an antibody drug will bind to the “spike” protein SARS-CoV-2 uses to crack open cells, and prevent the virus from entering. The fastest path to success for an antibody is possible through a drug that has to be given intravenously in a hospital or clinic, rather than through an auto-injector a patient could self-administer.

SOURCE

https://www.biopharmadive.com/news/coronavirus-antibody-drug-trials/577778/

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