Powerful antibodies found in certain COVID-19 survivors could treat patients with the disease and even protect against infection, researchers report in a new animal study.
These antibodies are among the most potent against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and could be produced by drug companies in large quantities, according to a team from Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
“We now have a collection of antibodies that’s more potent and diverse compared to other antibodies that have been found so far, and they are ready to be developed into treatments,” said project director Dr. David Ho, scientific director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and professor of medicine at Columbia University in New York City.
Sicker patients who survived coronavirus had more powerful antibodies, according to the study published July 22 in the journal Nature.
“We think that the sicker patients saw more virus and for a longer period of time, which allowed their immune system to mount a more robust response,” Ho said in a university news release. “This is similar to what we have learned from the HIV experience.”
The researchers found that their purified, strongly neutralizing antibodies provided significant protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection in hamsters, and they’re planning more studies in other animals and people. However, animal studies don’t always pan out in people.
Antibodies are proteins that bind to invading pathogens to neutralize them and mark them for destruction by immune system cells.
A number of drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 are currently in clinical trials, but may not be ready for several months. In the meantime, SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies produced by COVID-19 patients could be used to treat other patients or even prevent infection in people exposed to the virus, according to Ho and his team.
The development and approval of antibodies for use as a treatment usually takes less time than conventional drugs, they noted.
The researchers said the use of antibodies is similar to the use of convalescent serum from COVID-19 patients, but could be more effective.
Convalescent serum contains a variety of antibodies, but because each patient has a different immune response, serum used to treat one patient may be quite different from serum given to another patient, with varying levels and strengths of neutralizing antibodies, the study authors explained.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.