At a news conference Tuesday, UPMC officials said the drug will be especially helpful to vulnerable patients who wouldn't respond as well to a vaccine, such as the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.
"The new trial will tell us whether antibodies that attack the virus can be an effective treatment for COVID-19", she said.
Wei Li, assistant director of Pitt's Center for Therapeutic Antibodies and co-lead author of the research, sifted through antibody components and found multiple therapeutic antibody candidates in record time. Like covid-19, SARS and MERS both are caused by various coronaviruses.
Ab8, the drug constructed with the antibody fragment, has worked in mice and hamsters, and has the potential eventually to be used as COVID-19 therapy and COVID-19 prevention in humans, according to the news release.
Clinical trials are testing convalescent plasma-which contains antibodies from people who already had the pandemic-as a treatment for those battling the infection, but there isn't enough plasma for those who might need it, and it isn't proven to work.
Experts said that it was selected in part based on its emerging safety profile in humans, pre-clinical data showing it could protect against viral escape mutations, and prevention and treatment studies in non-human primates showing it reduced the amount of virus and associated damage in the lungs. They have identified small size antibody. "And this is extremely potent, and so we should be able to have a greater impact, and we also may be able to deliver the antibody by alternative means than in the vein". It can be through inhalation or via superficial injection, not necessarily be an IV.
The drug could be seen as a potential preventative against SARS-CoV-2 according to the researchers at UPMC. "The elderly can not generate, in general, a very good immune response", said Dr. Steven Shapiro, UPMC's chief medical and scientific officer - which means older adults and people who have compromised immune systems stand to gain the most from antibody therapies. There are good reasons to be excited about this new development - RECOVERY will provide a robust assessment of the effect of this lab-manufactured monoclonal antibody combination treatment in hospitalized patients.
Mellors said it is too early to estimate the likely cost of Ab8, but added that the cost of manufacturing antibodies is rapidly decreasing as scientists develop a greater ability to produce them.
"There are very, very, very few silver linings to covid", Mellors said.