UPMC, Pitt antibody work yields 'scientific breakthrough'

Wei Li Ph.D. of Pitt demonstrates a step in the process of obtaining a potential drug against COVID-19. Credit UPMC

Wei Li Ph.D. of Pitt demonstrates a step in the process of obtaining a potential drug against COVID-19. Credit UPMC

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford and chief investigator of the trial, said: "We have already discovered that one treatment, dexamethasone, benefits Covid-19 patients, but the death rate remains too high so we must keep searching for others".

These are man-made antibodies that act like human antibodies in the immune system.

"The Pitt team found the component of immunoglobulin by "'fishing' in a pool of more than 100 billion potential candidates" using the spike protein of the COVID-19 virus as "bait", according to the news release.

Importantly, it does not bind to human cells-a good sign that it won't have negative side-effects in people.

The researchers report today in the journal Cell that Ab8 is highly effective in preventing and treating SARS-CoV-2 infection in mice and hamsters. They isolated the smallest biological molecule, which would help to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus completely. Its tiny size allows it to pass through alternative routes inside the human body, including inhalation, making it more effective.

He added that larger antibodies have been effective against other infectious diseases, giving the world a hope that they could also cure and prevent COVID-19 infections.

With those results in hand, Dr Ralph Baric and his University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), US. colleagues tested Ab8 at varying concentrations in mice using a modified version of SARS-CoV-2.

It was combined with part of the immunoglobulin tail area to create Ab8, without the bulk of a full-size antibody.

Abound Bio, a newly formed UPMC-backed company, has in-licensed the rights to Ab8 for global development.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered a biomolecule that blocks virus that causes the novel Coronavirus.

Professor Fiona Watt, executive chairwoman of the Medical Research Council, said: "Monoclonal, or targeted, antibodies are already used to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases". This medicine can be used against SARS-Cov-2. In mice trials, those treated with Ab8 had 10-fold less of the amount of infectious virus compared to those that were untreated. According to Dimitrov, he and his team set out to isolate the gene for one or more antibodies that prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection in order to be able to mass-produce a therapeutic antibody which could overcome some of the limitations associated with convalescent plasma therapy. This also better neutralizes the virus. "We hope that the antibodies we have discovered will contribute to that triumph".

Funds for the research comes from the National Institutes of Health grants, and UPMC, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

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