As I understand it, there are three potential pharmaceutical defenses to COVID-19 (or any other virus). One is a vaccine, the holy grail, which durably prevents infection. The second is antiviral medication, to treat those who’ve already been infected. The third is antibody therapy, which can be used either to prevent infection or to treat those who are sick. The bad news with antibody therapy is that it’s not durable like a vaccine; the antibodies degrade after a period of weeks or months. The good news is that it’s the easiest of the three defenses to develop. Because antibodies are produced by human beings, there’s less risk of side effects in treating people with them. They can be brought to market sooner.
Jacob Glanville is a biologist who specializes in the immune system. He was featured in timely new Netflix documentary “Pandemic” for his work on flu vaccines. I’m wary of promoting scientists touting miracle cures for coronavirus ever since Tucker Carlson gave some airtime to that French study on hydroxychloroquine which turned out to be not so solid methodologically. But based on his bio, Glanville seems legit. What he describes in the interview below is exactly the sort of thing Scott Gottlieb’s been calling for as the first big step in turning the tide on COVID-19. Right now we’re stuck with mass social distancing to fight the virus because we lack any pharmaceutical weapons against it. Antibody/serological treatments will probably be that first weapon unless we luck out with hydroxychloroquine after all.
Lots of people are working on antibody treatments. There’s a report today in Reuters, in fact, that Chinese scientists have isolated more than 200 different antibodies from the plasma of people who’ve recovered from coronavirus that appear to show a “strong” ability to bind with the virus’s proteins. Among the first 20 antibodies tested, they’ve already found two that are “exceedingly good” at blocking the virus’s ability to enter cells. Glanville’s approach was different. Instead of isolating COVID-19 antibodies, he and his team studied antibodies that repelled SARS, which they already had on the shelf. That was logical: SARS and the new coronavirus are related genetically, so they figured that tweaking the SARS antibodies via mutations might quickly produce antibodies that are effective against COVID-19.
And they were right, if you believe Glanville:
Anti-#COVID19 #therapeutic update. After 9 weeks we have generated extremely potent picomolar antibodies that block known #neutralizing #ACE2 #epitopes, blocking the novel #coronavirus from infecting human cells. Read more at https://t.co/Fht9buIZkU. pic.twitter.com/2v7NMk7kyZ
— Dr. Jacob Glanville (@CurlyJungleJake) April 1, 2020
If I understand him correctly in the clip below, the antibodies his team has developed essentially block the doorway into human cells “extremely tightly with high affinity.” There’s no way for the virus to get in and start replicating. He believes that a dose given to someone who’s already infected would begin working within 20 minutes to shut down the spread of the virus. It could also be given to doctors and nurses as a prophylaxis, a sort of ersatz vaccine while the world waits for the real thing. By his estimate, one dose could provide protection for something like eight to 10 weeks. If that’s true, and if enough doses can be manufactured quickly, it’s a major game-changer.
But it’s a process. The next step for Glanville is to send the antibodies to the military for testing against the virus itself. (He and his team don’t keep samples of SARS or COVID-19 in their labs.) If it looks effective, human trials might begin by July. If those are promising, the therapy could be available to the public on a “compassionate use” basis by September. Five months is a long time to wait under the circumstances, but you can see why Anthony Fauci is more optimistic about containing the second wave of the outbreak this fall. If treatments like this succeed, and if production ramps up over the summer while the results of human trials are pending, a second outbreak could be ground to a halt before it ever develops momentum. We’d be done with lockdowns. Fingers crossed.