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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

New drug has potential to stop Covid-19 without a vaccine

Jack Burton




Scientists at China’s prestigious Peking University say a drug being tested at a Chinese laboratory could not only shorten recovery time for those infected with Covid-19, but perhaps even offer short-term immunity. They believe it could “bring the coronavirus pandemic to a halt”. The director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Centre for Genomics told AFP that the drug has been successful at the preliminary animal testing stage.

“When we injected neutralising antibodies into infected mice, after 5 days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500. That means this potential drug has a therapeutic effect.”

The new medication uses neutralising antibodies produced by the human immune system and isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients to prevent the virus infecting cells. A study on the team’s research, published Sunday in the scientific journal ‘Cell’, suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential “cure” for the disease and could shorten recovery times. ‘Cell’ is a peer-reviewed scientific journal publishing research papers across a broad range of disciplines since 1974.

“Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realised that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralising antibody we were thrilled.”

It’s hoped that the drug could be ready for use later this year and in time for any potential winter outbreak of the virus, which has infected nearly 5 million people around the world and killed more than 324,000. Human testing is expected to be carried out in Australia and other countries since cases have dwindled in China, offering fewer opportunities for testing.

“Planning for the clinical trial is underway. The hope is these neutralising antibodies can become a specialised drug that will stop the pandemic.”

China already has 5 potential coronavirus vaccines at the human trial stage, but the World Health Organisation has warned that developing a safe, cable vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.

Scientists point to the potential benefits of plasma from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body’s defences to attack it. In China, more than 700 patients have received plasma therapy, a process which authorities say shows “very good therapeutic effects,” although such plasma remains in limited supply.

Incorporating antibodies in drug treatments is not a new approach, and has been successful in treating several other viruses such as HIV, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Ebola drug Remdesivir was considered a hopeful early treatment for Covid-19 but the difference in death rate was not significant.

More than 100 vaccines for Covid-19 are in the works globally, but as the process of vaccine development is more demanding, China is hoping that the new drug will be a faster and more efficient way to stop the global march of the coronavirus.



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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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