CORONAVIRUS disease 2019 (COVID-19), a pandemic currently gripping the world, has accentuated the need for novel approaches to treat outbreaks caused by new viruses. Viral infections can be incredibly difficult to treat, yet that has not discouraged research groups worldwide from investigating effective therapies against the new COVID-19. These therapeutic possibilities showcase that even when time is limited, moving forward with new and existing ideas is essential.
Stopping viral infections can be approached through two basic methods: 1) through inhibition of a vital enzyme required by the virus to replicate its genome; and 2) by creating monoclonal antibodies based on a recovered patient’s immune response.
Remdesivir©, an antiviral drug (Gilead Sciences, Foster City, California, USA), has been tested in rhesus monkeys exposed to Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and successfully reduced respiratory symptoms. Furthermore, in January researchers reported that one patient in the USA had been treated with remdesivir successfully following COVID-19 infection. With initially promising results, currently two clinical trials of remdesivir have been launched in China including 760 people with COVID-19 aiming to be completed by the end of April.
The second approach, involving monoclonal antibody production, is currently being investigated by AbCellera, Vancouver, Canada. Ester Falconer, head of research at AbCellera, has stated: “We’re trying to identify antibodies from patients who have recovered from infection because their finely tuned immune systems have already figured out a way to clear the virus.” The company has developed a fast method to analyse the serum from recovered patients, which will allow them to identify antibodies that can be converted into a monoclonal drug therapy quicker.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Tarrytown, New York, USA, is attempting to retrieve the monoclonal antibodies through a unique method. The company has engineered mice to mimic the human immune system and then exposed them to a pseudo coronavirus. Christos Kyratsous from Regeneron explained that these mice create antibodies when exposed to viruses such as COVID-19, but not mice antibodies. He highlighted that: “They are basically making fully human antibodies. We’ve created a mini human immune response in a mouse.” He is optimistic that within the next few weeks, antibodies can be harvested from the mice and utilised to asses which ones will make the most effective COVID-19-tackling drug.