University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists have found “the smallest biological molecule” that “completely and specifically neutralizes” SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The antibody is 10 times smaller than a full-sized antibody and has been used to create the drug Ab8, according to a report published by the researchers in the journal Cell on Monday. The researchers say the drug is a potential preventative treatment against SARS-CoV-2.
“Ab8 not only has potential as therapy for COVID-19, but it also could be used to keep people from getting SARS-CoV-2 infections,” said co-author John Mellors, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Pitt and UPMC. “Antibodies of larger size have worked against other infectious diseases and have been well tolerated, giving us hope that it could be an effective treatment for patients with COVID-19 and for protection of those who have never had the infection and are not immune.”
The drug has been tested in mice and hamsters and has been shown to be “highly effective in preventing and treating” the SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to the report. Researchers also say the drug does not bind to human cells, which they say suggests there may not be adverse side effects in people.
Researchers are examining how the drug could be administered, saying it may be inhaled as an aerosol or delivered through a superficial injection.
Another team of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Biodefense and Emerging Diseases and Galveston National Laboratory tested Ab8 and found that the drug blocked the virus from entering cells. In trials, mice treated with Ab8 had 10-fold less of the amount of infectious virus compared to those untreated.
The development comes after the world’s largest clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine, being developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca, was put on hold.
“Our standard review process was triggered and we voluntarily paused vaccination to allow review of safety data by an independent committee,” the company said in a statement last week. “This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials.”
“In large trials, illnesses will happen by chance but must be independently reviewed to check this carefully,” the statement said. “We are working to expedite the review of the single event to minimize any potential impact on the trial timeline. We are committed to the safety of our participants and the highest standards of conduct in our trials.”
The trial vaccine, jointly developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and scientists at the University of Oxford, was at the leading edge of an effort to develop a vaccine before the end of the year to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Health news site STAT said the vaccine’s Phase 3 trial was put on hold after a “suspected serious adverse reaction” to the drug in one participant in Britain. “While the vaccine developers haven’t revealed the details of the potential adverse reaction, the company has downplayed fears, highlighting that trial suspension is a standard process, and can be triggered by a single medical event,” STAT notes. The individual in question is expected to recover, the site reported.
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