Stopping the spread of coronavirus and finding a cure feel like the two most pressing issues in the world right now. This pernicious virus which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and infected and impacted millions of people around the world, needs to be stopped in its tracks and never come back.
In order to make sure we don’t ever have to go through this again, scientists all over the world are working flat out to develop a vaccine which could, eventually offer immunity.
However, developing vaccines is a difficult and lengthy process, trials are risky and there are strict standards, procedures and legal requirements to be met before any large-scale inoculations could be given.
- Lead scientist Dr Xie Xiaoliang explains antibody experiment results on mice
This week in Beijing, a lab published encouraging results from animal experiments using neutralising antibodies. The process for developing antibody drugs which neutralise the virus is much faster than that for developing a vaccine so it could bridge the gap and provide something to treat and prevent Covid-19 in the short term.
The Biomedical Pioneering Innovation Centre at Peking University has become one of the first to start human trials of neutralising antibodies and believes a drug could be ready before the end of the year.
In experiments carried out on infected mice the neutralising antibodies developed in Beijing were able to clear the virus after five days. And in mice given the antibodies and then infected with Covid-19, the virus didn’t develop at all.
Neutralising antibodies work by blocking the virus from infecting cells in the body. Once scientists figure out the exact sequence needed to block Covid-19 they can synthesise these cells and eventually produce a highly potent drug which can be injected into the body.
These antibody drugs could be used on people already sick with the virus or used to protect those at most risk of becoming infected such as medical workers. Unlike a vaccine which would offer lifetime immunity, these drugs would only provide a short-term treatment or cure, of just a few months.
- Dr Xie Xiaoliang says antibodies may provide a way out of the coronavirus pandemic
Due to the lack of patients in China the next phase of the Peking University research will be done in several other countries around the world, including potentially the UK. During these trials they will test not only the effectiveness of the antibodies, but they will work on extending the period of efficacy.
The work to develop antibody drugs to treat Covid-19 has been helped by previous successful examples of treating HIV, Ebola and MERS with neutralising antibodies. So advanced has the science become in the field of genomics that it took scientists in China just two weeks to sequence the genome for Covid-19. It took five months to do the same for SARS in 2003.
Every day there are more people dying, more people becoming infected with Covid-19 and the team of researchers we met in Beijing, along with others around the world, are working flat out to bring this pandemic to an end, offering some hope that this can be defeated.
Coronavirus: Everything you need to know: