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Covid-19 virus

Searching for “magic bullet” antibodies to combat COVID-19

Several cases of mysterious pneumonia (now called COVID-19) were reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China in late December 2019. SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was later identified. In the past eight months, COVID-19 cases have been reported in 188 countries all over the world, with over 20 million confirmed cases and 760,000 deaths.

Coronaviruses have infected humans and have caused three major outbreaks—SARS, MERS, and COVID-19—in the last two decades. All of them might be transmitted from animals such as bats. COVID-19 has caused significant damage to public health, world economy, and every aspect of our life on the Earth. If the last two coronavirus outbreaks (SARS and MERS) did not stimulate a profound global awareness for deadly coronavirus infection, the current pandemic has certainly called for scientists from all areas of expertise to work relentlessly in solving the most unprecedented health crisis in modern medical history after the 1918 pandemic flu.

One major effort scientists have been making to combat this virus is to generate so-called antibody drugs capable of neutralizing the virus. Our body can produce potent proteins that attack “foreign” dangerous pathogens, such as viruses. Individuals with COVID-19 may produce antibodies that can inhibit or even neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Based on this observation, scientists have used cutting-edge cell and molecular biology techniques, including single cell sorting and cloning, to identify such precious antibodies from these individuals. In other cases, scientists have identified anti-virus antibodies from genetically engineered mice, called transgenic mice, that produce human antibodies as part of the mouse immune system. Currently, eight antibodies targeting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including LY-CoV555, REGN-COV2 and JS016, are being tested in human clinical trials for treating COVID-19. On the research frontier, scientists are also using a genetic engineering technique called phage display technology to isolate antibodies using a bacteria system. A combination of two (or more) antibodies that recognize different parts of the virus might be the most effective approach. A cocktail therapy (for example, REGN-COV2) combining two antibodies targeting different parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is currently being tested in a clinical trial. If successful, antibody drugs can be useful for treating COVID-19 in infected patients and preventing spread in high risk populations such as frontier workers, including doctors and nurses, seniors and/or those with chronic diseases.

As researchers continue this vital work to deliver “magic bullet” antibodies to combat COVID-19, The Chinese Antibody Society and The Antibody Society have collaboratively launched the COVID-19 Antibody Therapeutics Tracker program to provide real-time, free, open access to the online global database tracking ongoing COVID-19 antibody development in clinical as well as preclinical testing, to the medical community and general public.

Image: Virus via Pixabay

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