Scientists in China think new drug can stop “vaccine-free” pandemic

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Beijing (AFP)

A Chinese laboratory has developed a drug that it believes has the power to end the coronavirus pandemic.

The epidemic started in China late last year before spreading around the world, sparking an international race to find treatments and vaccines.

A drug tested by scientists at the prestigious Chinese University of Beijing could not only shorten the recovery time of infected people, but even offer short-term immunity to the virus, the researchers said.

Sunney Xie, director of the Beijing Center for Advanced Innovation in Genomics, told AFP that the drug had passed animal testing.

“When we injected neutralizing antibodies into infected mice after five days, the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” said Xie.

“This means that this potential drug has (a) a therapeutic effect. “

The drug uses neutralizing antibodies – produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus from infecting cells – that the Xie team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients.

A study of the team’s research, published Sunday in the scientific journal Cell, suggests that the use of antibodies offers a potential “cure” for the disease and shortens recovery time.

Xie said his team was working “day and night” looking for the antibody.

“Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realized that the unicellular genomic approach could effectively find the neutralizing antibody, we were delighted. “

He added that the drug should be ready for use later this year and in time for any potential winter epidemic of the virus, which has infected 4.8 million people worldwide and killed more than 315,000 people.

“Planning for the clinical trial is underway,” said Xie, adding that it would be conducted in Australia and other countries as cases have declined in China, offering fewer human guinea pigs to test.

“The hope is that these neutralized antibodies can become a specialized drug that will stop the pandemic,” he said.

China already has five vaccines against potential coronaviruses in the human trials, a health official said last week.

But the World Health Organization has warned that developing a vaccine could take 12-18 months.

Scientists also pointed to the potential benefits of plasma – a blood fluid – from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies against the virus, allowing the body’s defenses to attack it.

More than 700 patients received plasma therapy in China, a process which, according to the authorities, has shown “very good therapeutic effects”.

“However, its (plasma) is limited in its supply,” said Xie, noting that the 14 neutralizing antibodies used in their drug could go into mass production quickly.

– Prevention and cure –

The use of antibodies in drug treatments is not a new approach and it has successfully treated several other viruses such as HIV, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Xie said his researchers had “an early start” since the start of the epidemic in China before spreading to other countries.

Ebola Remdesivir was considered a hopeful early treatment for COVID-19 – clinical trials in the United States have shown that it shortens recovery time by a third in some patients – but the difference in rate of mortality was not significant.

The new drug may even offer short-term protection against the virus.

The study showed that if the neutralizing antibody was injected before the mice were infected with the virus, the mice remained free from infection and no virus was detected.

This could provide temporary protection for medical workers for a few weeks, which Xie said he hoped would “span a few months.”

More than 100 vaccines for COVID-19 are in preparation worldwide, but as the process of vaccine development is more demanding, Xie hopes that the new drug could be a faster and more effective way to stop the global march of coronavirus .

“We could stop the pandemic with an effective drug, even without a vaccine,” he said.

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