A Beijing University research team working “day and night” claims to have successfully tested a drug that could shorten the recovery time for patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, hence offering a more near-term approach to decreasing the risk associated with this deadly pathogen. Led by the director of Beijing University’s Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics—Sunney Xie—the team has identified a novel way to target SARS-CoV-2. The key: the Chinese team has identified multiple neutralizing antibodies via the high throughput single-cell sequencing of convalescent plasma. They are preparing for clinical trials in Australia and elsewhere.
Working ‘Day and Night’ to Find Potent Neutralizing Antibody
The Chinese-based study team concluded in the published report in journal Cell that “a potent neutralizing antibody could be used to develop drugs for both therapeutic intervention and prophylactic protection against SARS-CoV-2. “Senior author Xie was quoted, “If the COVID-19 epidemic reappears in the winter, our neutralizing antibody might be available by that time.” As it turns out, the group studied convalescent plasma much like teams in the United States and have been working tirelessly and around the clock.
The preclinical drug developed by the Chinese researchers was derived from the blood of 60 recovered COVID-19 patients. Xie commented, “Our expertise is in single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realized that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralizing antibody we were thrilled.”
Preclinical Mice Study
The researchers described their approach: “When we injected antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” Xie reported to AFP.
Imminent Clinical Trials
Amazingly, researcher Xie suggests the drug could be ready this year in time for a winter return of the deadly pathogen. But how could that be? As of this writing, June is around the corner and November is only six months away. Could the drug be developed in just a handful of months? Well the group is apparently planning for clinical trials and they have already identified study sites in Australia and other places as there are so few COVID-19 cases left in China—according to Chinese press.
Convalescent plasma research in China shows real potential. Researchers there have taken plasma from over 700 COVID-19 patients and teams report “very good therapeutic effects.” Constraints exist, including limited supply. Xie did note that the 14 neutralizing antibodies discovered from the convalescent plasma could be leveraged for rapid mass production.
As far as vaccines, China has five approved candidates in clinical research.
Beijing University Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics
The Beijing University Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics (ICG) was established in 2016 with support from the Beijing municipal government. They seek to conduct cutting-edge research in genomic medicine, in order to provide new health solutions to the public.
Sunney Xie, director of Beijing University’s Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics