As confirmed cases of COVID-19 reach 1.5 million worldwide with nearly 90,000 deaths, the demand for treatment to curb the spread and severity of the virus couldn’t be higher.
A San Francisco group of computational immuno-engineers at Distributed Bio think they have found a possible treatment, Dr. Jacob Glanville told Radio New Zealand’s news program, Checkpoint, in a video interview. He said the treatment uses five antibodies adapted from the SARS coronavirus which potentially would “block and stop” the virus with a simple injection.
Glanville is the president, CEO, and co-founder of Distributed Bio and a featured researcher on Netflix’s Pandemic. He is also the co-founder of therapeutics company Centivax. He says prior research on SARS antibodies has saved his team years of work because they can “piggyback” on those findings.
Glanville told Checkpoint, “I’m happy to report that my team has successfully taken five antibodies that back in 2002 were determined to bind and neutralize, block and stop the SARS virus. We’ve evolved them in our laboratory, so now they very vigorously block and stop the SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] virus as well.”
SARS is related to COVID-19 because both are a type of coronavirus. SARS infected 8,098 people from November 2002 through 2003, 774 of whom died, according to a CDC Fact Sheet. There were no deaths in the U.S. from SARS and only eight reported cases.
This Breakthrough Would Work as a Short-Term Vaccine
Glanville told Checkpoint that the way the treatment would work, if it makes it through the various testing phases, is that infected patients could get injections of the antibodies, and within 20 minutes the treatment would start working to fight the virus.
“It’s sort of like a short-term vaccine except it works immediately,” he said. “A vaccine could take six to eight weeks to take effect whereas this is going to take effect within 20 minutes … and then within 20 minutes of receiving the shot their body is flooded with those antibodies and those antibodies will go surround and stick all over a virus and make it so it’s no longer infectious.”
It could also be given to high-risk groups, such as health care workers or the elderly, to keep them from getting sick. The caveat, though, is that antibodies only give immunity for eight to 10 weeks because eventually, those antibodies deteriorate. Multiple doses may be necessary.
According to a paper published by the National Institutes of Health, using antibodies to treat viruses has been getting more traction over the years in the absence of “identifying effective therapies,” because antibodies “bind directly to the viral antigen and bring about activation of the immune system.”
The Science is Promising, Glanville Says, But it Will Take Time
Though the need for treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19 is great, good science takes time. Glanville told Checkpoint that the normal checks and balances need to happen before this possible treatment can be used on humans. Those checks and balances can take several months before they’re even ready for a trial run. And then there is the need for manufacturing enough of the treatment for worldwide use.
Glanville and his team’s goal is to make this treatment available to everyone worldwide, but that means getting manufacturing going ahead of time assuming the treatment will be a success.
He said, “Governments should pay for that. … The cost of all of our lives and the economy is so much greater than the additional cost of scaling up in anticipation that that medicine works, and they should sponsor that.”
Glanville said the earliest the treatment could be released for compassionate use would be September. According to the Mayo Clinic, compassionate use patients must meet certain criteria, including having a serious or terminal illnesses and no other real avenues for treatment.
“We are doing everything we can to speed this process up,” he said. “I’ll also just be sobering that this does take time.”