A British pharmaceutical giant is preparing to launch human trials on antibody treatment that can protect old and vulnerable people from coronavirus.
Cambridge-based drug maker AstraZeneca plans to test the three-minute infusion of antibodies – immune cells trained to fight infections – on 30 British people next month.
If it is proven to be safe, large-scale trials involving thousands of people will continue rapidly in autumn and winter, when Covid-19 cases are expected to rise.
The treatment, described by government scientists as “very exciting,” is intended for patients with a weak immune system that conventional vaccines do not protect.
It would be suitable for people taking chemotherapy and immunosuppressive drugs, or elderly patients who naturally struggle to fight infections.
Vaccines induce the body to make its own antibodies in preparation for the real infection. However, older people do not respond as well and develop less powerful antibodies than younger people.
According to pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, antibody treatment could take place next year to provide immediate protection against the coronavirus, said pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca (stock image)
AstraZeneca, which has already partnered with Oxford University to develop a separate Covid-19 vaccine, says it can protect people from catching Covid-19 for six months.
The therapy can also be used in people who are already infected to prevent the disease from progressing.
Sir Mene Pangalos, who leads pharmaceutical discovery research at Astrazeneca, told The Times, “There is an elderly population who [may not] get a particularly good immune response to the [conventional] vaccine.
In those cases, you may want to prophylactically treat those patients with an antibody to give them extra protection.
WHAT ARE ANTIBODIES?
Antibodies are substances produced by the immune system that store memories of how to fight a specific virus.
They can only be made if the body is exposed to the virus by getting really infected, or by a vaccine or some other type of specialized immunotherapy.
In general, antibodies produce immunity to a virus because they are re-deployed the second time it enters the body, defeating the bug faster than it can hold and causing disease.
An antibody test, which analyzes a blood sample, has two purposes: to find out whether a person has been infected in the past and thus may have been protected from the virus, and to count those people.
Knowing that you are immune to a virus – although it is still unknown whether people actually develop immunity to Covid-19 – may affect how you act in the future.
Someone may need to protect themselves less if they know they are infected, for example, or if medical personnel can return to work knowing they are not at risk.
“We are going to do this as soon as possible. We should clearly show that you are safe, but antibodies are known entities – it should be safe. ‘
Sir Mene warned that treatment is likely to cost double that of a standard vaccine and should be reserved for the sickest patients.
The treatment uses so-called monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), which have been developed in a laboratory and which mimic antibodies naturally produced by recovered Covid patients.
Monoclonal antibodies are already used to treat tetanus, ebola and diphtheria.
Researchers from Vanderbilt University in the US have evaluated more than 1,500 mAbs to find the two most effective at suppressing the spread of Covid-19.
The two antibodies are administered in combination through an IV infusion and work by binding to the spike proteins of the coronavirus, which is used to stick to human cells and prevent it from entering the body.
A British government scientific advisor today described the new treatment as “very exciting” and said it could prevent the sickest Covid patients from developing serious complications.
Professor Peter Openshaw, an immunologist at Imperial College London, told The Telegraph: ‘I think the potential is a very exciting form of therapy and the field has progressed remarkably in recent years in terms of its ability to produce antibodies in factories or in laboratories in bulk, that would be necessary for such a treatment to work. We have to wait for really good studies to demonstrate this. ‘
Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system in response to the presence of a foreign substance, such as the coronavirus. This can take several days.
Antibodies recognize and attach to these substances, called antigens, to remove them from the body.
The immune system remembers the antigen so that if a person is exposed to it again, it can make antibodies more quickly.
It is not clear how long antibodies from the first infection persist in the system, which provides some form of immunity.
An injection of cloned antibodies would be made by taking genetic coding for Covid-19 antibodies and engineering clones in a lab to make massive amounts.
The Covid-19 vaccine could be ready in a year if the trials are successful, leading UK research scientists reveal
A vaccine for Covid-19 could be ready within a year if the trials go well, a leading British research scientist finds sad.
Professor Robin Shattock, who heads a team working at Imperial College London to produce a vaccine, said that enough of the vaccine would be available to everyone in the UK if the trials go “really well.”
There is no assurance that the vaccine being successfully developed will depend on the degree of immunity required to prevent infection, making the success rate difficult to predict.
Professor Robin Shattock, who heads a team working at Imperial College London to produce a vaccine, said that enough of the vaccine would be available to everyone in the UK if the trials go ‘really good’
Sophie Ridge said on Sky News on Sunday: Professor Shattock said, “So we expect that if all goes well, we will get an answer on whether it works early next year.
“And we’ve set up the infrastructure to make that vaccine for the entire UK.
“Assuming funding is available to buy that vaccine, we can roll it out in the UK in the first half of next year.”
15 volunteers have already received the trial vaccines and testing is expected to reach 200-300 new participants in the coming weeks.
15 volunteers have already received the trial vaccines, and testing is expected to reach as many as 200-300 new entrants in the coming weeks (file image)
Professor Shattock told the program, “If you only need a very small amount of immunity, I suspect most vaccines being developed will actually work, but if you need a very strong immune response or a certain quality of immune response, we” will see that it will really shock some of these candidates.
“We hope that we are the candidate, one of the candidates who is successful, but with an individual approach there is no certainty.”
Another vaccine is also being developed at Oxford University, and the combined efforts of both teams have made Professor Shattock optimistic that a vaccine could be ready soon – especially as the number of cases is decreasing.
He said that while there is no certainty that the vaccine in Imperial or Oxford would not work, the probability that both fail is “very low,” he said.
Professor Shattock said a vaccine should be introduced cautiously because no normal full trials have taken place (file image)
Given the importance of a vaccine and the pressure to develop one quickly, Professor Shattock said any vaccine should be introduced with caution, as no normal full trials have taken place.
He said, “I think the wire pressure is actually so great to develop a vaccine that we would normally study a vaccine for two years before making it generally available to the general public,” he told the program.
“And of course we don’t have two years of safety for this vaccine or the ones that are under development.
“And so they will still have to be introduced very cautiously, with a long-term follow-up, because the pressure to get a vaccine and to get the economy going is really big.”