Scientists have detected an antibody that blocks the coronavirus from entering cells, providing a much-needed shield for severely ill patients. While not a cure or vaccine, it is still a significant development.
“This is clearly a breakthrough that shows that we are on the right track for the development of a drug against Covid-19,” said virologist Professor Luka Cicin-Sain.
“In repeated experiments, we were able to show that this result is sustainable.”
Cicin-Sain and his team analyzed 6,000 different human antibodies and found more than 750 that dock with the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading further in already infected patients. The antibodies are currently undergoing additional testing on cell cultures to whittle their number down to find the most effective at blocking the infection.
“I am extremely happy about this great success of the research institutes in Lower Saxony, which gives hope for better healing results with Covid-19,” said Lower Saxony’s Minister of Science Bjorn Thumler.
To be clear, the researchers are neither producing a vaccine nor a cure, but instead a potentially highly effective treatment for severely ill coronavirus patients which operates on the principle of “so-called passive immunization,” according to Stefan Dübel from the Technical University of Braunschweig, who added that “The effect is immediate: the antibodies take the potential away from the virus.”
The team, who worked in collaboration with biotech company Yumab, is hoping to begin clinical trials in the autumn.
Meanwhile, the broad-spectrum antiviral medication Remdesivir – originally developed to treat the Ebola and Marburg viruses – is being used in trials with coronavirus patients, despite its apparent ineffectiveness in follow-up tests, after one study found the drug shortened coronavirus infection recovery times.