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Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School say they discovered a potent molecule that was "highly effective" in preventing and treating COVID-19 when tested on mice and hamsters.
Sounds promising, but it's too early to be hopeful. Animal studies like this one are notorious for not transferring them to human test subjects. And Pitt's experimental approach using a "human monoclonal antibody" is not new. It is being pursued by numerous research groups and the federal government.
A monoclonal antibody is a laboratory-made version of proteins that are naturally produced by the immune system to fight off invading germs.
Natural or monoclonal, antibodies can prevent infection by attaching to parts of viruses that they use to break into cells and start replicating.
The Pitt scientists then identified and then made just the tiny component of the antibody that binds to the coronavirus spike protein – the rod-shaped projections that the virus uses to bind and enter cells. Although this monoclonal antibody called Ab8 thwarted the spike protein, it did not bind to human cells, suggesting that it is safe to use in humans. Ab8 is so tiny that researchers speculate that it could be administered with an inhaler rather than with gunfire.
"Larger antibodies have worked against other infectious diseases and have been well tolerated, giving us hope that (Ab8) could be an effective treatment for patients with COVID-19 and to protect patients who have never had the infection and are not immune" Co-author John Mellors, chief of the infectious diseases division at Pitt, said in a statement.
We will see. While Pitt is still investigating his experimental drug on animals, two other monoclonal antibodies are in late-stage humans, known as clinical trials.
Like most groups looking for breakthroughs to contain the pandemic, Pitt's researchers and media outlets tend to get very excited. In April, they published a press release about their novel vaccine candidate. "When tested in mice, the vaccine, which is delivered through a fingertip-sized patch, produces antibodies in amounts believed to be sufficient to neutralize the virus."
To date, this novel vaccine has not been included in clinical trials because it is not listed on clinicaltrials.gov, the US government website that publishes trial protocols from around the world.
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Scientists discover potential coronavirus agents – at least for mice and hamsters (2020, September 21)
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