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If a vaccine might be a while away, what about “antibody treatment”?

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Antibodies are the proteins the body makes to fight infection.  During the 1918 flu pandemic doctors proved giving convalescent blood plasma from those who had recovered from the flu to those currently suffering from it could provide useful antibodies to help fight the infection.  Since then, convalescent plasma treatment has been used in many infections, including severe flu, MERS, SARS and now with some success in SARS-CoV-2 as well.  While many recovered COVID-19 patients are donating blood plasma to help others and studies are still underway to prove efficacy, there isn’t enough donated plasma to treat all patients.  Thankfully, scientists can create what are called monoclonal antibodies: lab-made antibodies created to target a specific infection.  An antibody treatment could be used to treat active infection, or to prevent infection in high risk people who have been exposed.  The development of antibody treatments for COVID-19 has skyrocketed – currently there are at least 102 antibody treatments in various stages of development.  Four have already gone into human trials in June and many experts believe, if all goes well in the first phases of these trials, therapies could potentially be available by the fall.  Others, including Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor of immunology and infectious diseases Phyllis Kanki, caution that not everything works as planned outside of research studies and that it can take time to get the right antibody.  Stanford Internal Medicine Ground Rounds recently focused on the topic of monoclonal antibody development for COVID-19, with biotech experts expressing hope for a shorter timeline, explaining that in the current pandemic atmosphere, pharmaceutical companies are willing to shorten the traditional development and manufacturing timeline by taking more financial risk – many have already begun diverting whole manufacturing plants to development of monoclonal antibodies that are still in research phase, to get a jump start on the large production numbers that will be needed should the evidence prove safety and efficacy. Stay tuned for more information on antibody treatments under development as phase 2 and 3 trials are completed in the late summer and fall.

(Jennifer Abrams, MD, June 29, 2020)