CORONAVIRUS/Antibody therapy for COVID-19 shows promise in animal tests: NHRI

07/29/2020 08:53 PM
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File photo courtesy of the NHRI
File photo courtesy of the NHRI

Taipei, July 29 (CNA) A monoclonal antibody (mAb) treatment being developed by Taiwan's National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) has been shown to significantly reduce levels of the COVID-19 coronavirus in infected animals, the body's leading infectious disease official said Wednesday.

In recent testing on hamsters infected with COVID-19, those given two types of lab-made antibodies, known as mAb-X and mAb-Y, showed levels of the virus in their lungs up to 100 times lower than those in the control group, said Liao Ching-len (廖經倫), director of the NHRI's Institute of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology.

Hamsters that received the treatment also maintained their original body weight and activity levels, while those that did not lost weight and became less active, Liao said at the Central Epidemic Command Center's (CECC) weekly press briefing.

Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created immune system proteins. They are made by identical immune cells that are all clones of a unique parent cell. Like the body's own antibodies, mAbs recognize specific targets.

According to Liao, the NHRI jointly developed the treatment using two types of mAbs with the National Defense Medical Center, based on earlier research into another coronavirus -- severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Because researchers had previously found that the antibodies could recognize the spike protein (which viruses use to bind to host cells) of the SARS virus, they began studying whether they would also target the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, and found it to be similarly effective, he said.

To test this potential, animal trials were conducted using the antibodies, which recently yielded "exciting" results, Liao said.

The advantage of this type of therapy, he explained, is that these antibodies recognize a part of the virus that rarely mutates, meaning that they are able to maintain their effectiveness even as the virus undergoes other regular mutations.

In terms of their application, Liao said the antibodies could be used on their own, or as part of a drug cocktail to improve their overall efficacy.

The NHRI is now looking to transfer its technology to a supplier with experience in manufacturing antibodies, which could merchandise the treatments in preparation for eventual human trials, he added.

(By Chen Wei-ting, Wu Hsin-yun and Matthew Mazzetta)

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