UPMC, University of Pittsburgh discover antibody breakthrough that could prevent, treat COVID-19

Local News

(WTAJ) — Researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh discovered a breakthrough for treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

The drug creation comes from potent antibodies that can block the virus from infecting a patient’s cells.

Doctors searched through 100 billion potential antibodies to find which ones would attach to the Coronavirus.

“Think of it as a key and a lock. It prevents the key from getting into the lock, blocking that entryway, so the virus can’t infect the cells and cause a death to the cell and spread,” Dr. John Mellors, Chief of Infectious Diseases at UPMC and Pitt, said.

They used what’s called “panning,” similar to what prospectors did during the gold rush.

“Out of the billions and billions of sand particles, they want to find the gold particle, one gold particle. With these 100 billion different antibodies, we want to find one that binds very, very, very strongly to the viral protein,” Dr. Dimiter Dimitrov, Director of the Center for Antibody Therapeutics at Pitt, said.

UPMC officials said the drug, AB8, does not replace the need for a vaccine.

A vaccine uses part of the virus, dead or alive, to to help the immune system create antibodies to fight it off, but some patients, like the elderly, might not make strong enough antibodies. AB8 puts the antibodies into the patient’s system to both prevent the virus and treat those who already have it.

“The patient population that needs the vaccine the most is the least likely to respond. The antibody will provide that for them,” Dr. Steven Shapiro, Chief Medical and Scientific officer for UPMC., said.

If someone has antibodies in their system, it means they had the Coronavirus at one point and recovered. Some patients decide to donate convalescent plasma to help other patients with those antibodies that doctors can extract. This drug, AB8, has a strong, very potent antibody that can come from that plasma.

Doctors said the drug can be administered through inhalation, intravenously, or subcutaneous injection.

Clinical trials show the drug works in rats and hamsters, and human trials are set to start in the beginning of next year.

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