Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca says an antibody treatment for COVID-19 could be ready in 2021.
The company, who is also working on COVID-19 vaccine development, is developing “cloned antibodies.” These antibodies would help people who have contracted COVID-19 fight off the infection.
The company says the antibody injections would be more expensive to produce than a vaccine and would be prioritized for the elderly since the elderly may not be protected as well by vaccines.
Vaccines cause the human body to produce its own antibodies which can then prevent infection. However, the elderly don’t respond as well to vaccines and develop weaker antibodies than younger people.
Scientists are working “full speed” on antibody treatment testing. AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot said the antibody treatment in development is “a combination of two antibodies” in an injection. Having two antibodies in the injection “reduces the chance of resistance developing to one antibody.”
Antibodies are proteins the immune system produces in response to foreign substances like the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antibodies recognize and bind to these foreign substances, which are known as antigens, then remove the antigens from the body.
A cloned antibody injection would be produced by engineering clones in a lab by utilizing the genetic code of COVID-19 antibodies. “Monoclonal antibodies” have previously been used to treat tetanus, Ebola and diphtheria.
AstraZeneca says an antibody injection could be important for those in the early stages of COVID-19, giving the person a chance to quickly eliminate the virus from their body before developing severe symptoms. This could save lives, particularly those of the elderly.
Oxford University is currently testing its COVID-19 vaccine. AstraZeneca would manufacture it if the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective. An initial trial on 160 volunteers from age 18 to 55 has already been completed and the vaccine is now onto phases two and three. Up to 10,260 people will be tested and the age range will now include children and the elderly.
AstraZeneca signed a deal on Thursday with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations which will lead to 300 million globally accessible doses of the vaccine. AstraZeneca has started to mass-produce the vaccine in factories in Oxford, India, Norway and Switzerland. The company expects to distribute hundreds of millions of vaccine doses in 2020 and at least two billion by the middle of next year.
Results of the ongoing vaccine testing are expected in August.