Chinese scientists develop new drug to stop coronavirus without vaccine

BEIJING: A Chinese laboratory has been developing a new drug it believes has the power to bring the coronavirus pandemic to a halt without the need for a vaccine.
A drug being tested by scientists at China’s renowned Peking University could not only shorten the recovery time for those infected but even offer short-term immunity from the virus, researchers said.
Sunney Xie, director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, told an international news agency that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage.
“When we injected neutralising antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” said Xie, adding that it means the potential drug has a therapeutic effect.
The drug uses neutralising antibodies – produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells – which Xie’s team isolated from the blood of sixty recovered patients.
A study on the team’s research, published in the scientific journal Cell, suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential cure for the disease and shortens recovery time. Xie said his team had been working tirelessly searching for the antibody.
“Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realised that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralising antibody we were thrilled.”
He added that the drug should be ready for use later this year and in time for any potential winter outbreak of the virus. He said planning for the clinical trial is underway which will be carried out in Australia and other countries since cases have dwindled in China.
He hoped that these neutralised antibodies can become a specialised drug that would stop the pandemic. China already has five potential coronavirus vaccines at the human trial stage. The World Health Organisation has warned that developing a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.
Scientists have also pointed to the potential benefits of plasma – a blood fluid – from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body’s defences to attack it.
More than 700 patients have received plasma therapy in China, a process which authorities said showed very good therapeutic effects. Xie said plasma is limited in supply, noting that the 14 neutralising antibodies used in their drug could be put into mass production quickly.
Xie said his researchers had an early start since the outbreak started in China before spreading to other countries. The new drug could even offer short-term protection against the virus.
The study showed that if the neutralising antibody was injected before the mice were infected with the virus, the mice stayed free of infection and no virus was detected. This may offer temporary protection for medical workers for a few weeks, which Xie said they are hoping to extend to a few months.
More than 100 vaccines for COVID-19 are in the works globally the process of vaccine development is more demanding. Xie is hoping that the new drug could be a faster and more efficient way to stop the global march of the coronavirus. “We would be able to stop the pandemic with an effective drug, even without a vaccine,” he said.
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