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The first breakthrough coronavirus antibody drug might finally be here

Published May 15th, 2020 9:08AM EDT

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  • One of the first brand new drugs made for COVID-19 therapy might be based on Sorrento’s STI-1499 antibody.
  • The antibody was 100% successful at stopping the novel coronavirus from infecting healthy cells in lab conditions.
  • Pending regulatory approval, the antibody drug could be used in the future as a standalone treatment or combined with other antibodies that can block the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The moment we find COVID-19 treatments that are truly effective, we’ll see the novel coronavirus with different eyes. Yes, the virus is highly transmissible and can lead to severe illness and death. But effective drugs that can block its ability to infect cells and meds that can reduce respiratory distress and inflammation will turn the new disease into an infection that we’ll learn to live with.

Several experts warned this week that the novel coronavirus is here to stay, and we may never get rid of it even when the vaccines arrive. But an increasing number of reports detail various therapies that can be used to improve the odds of recovery. Some of them rely on drugs that were developed to treat other conditions. Others use stem cells. And then there are plasma transfusions from patients who survived COVID-19.

Researchers are also working on a new type of drug that’s related to plasma therapy, antibody-based meds that can offer the same kind of protection as a plasma transfusion. Now, we have learned that one of the antibodies capable of blocking the SARS-CoV-2 virus from binding to cells has proven to be 100% effective in labs.

The novel coronavirus binds to human cells via a spike protein that can link up to ACE2 receptors. Then the virus enters the cell where it wreaks havoc. The cell deciphers the virus’s genetic information to create more and more copies of the virus. The cell dies in the process, and the new replicas are released into the body where they are free to infect other cells and continue to replicate.

The immune system detects pathogens and can fight them very efficiently. Many people will get COVID-19 and never know it because they’ll never even present any symptoms. That means the immune system cleared the virus before it could cause complications, and the resulting antibodies will be able to deal with the illness in the future, providing immunity against COVID-19 for an unknown period of time. That’s why plasma treatments work. Doctors use the antibodies from donors to treat other patients with weaker immune systems. But demand for plasma far exceeds supply, and that’s why monoclonal antibody drugs would work better.

Sorrento is one of several companies working on this breakthrough type of drug. The pharmaceutical company has found what it describes as a “potent anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody” that can completely prevent the virus from linking to ACE2 cells in lab tests. The antibody is called STI-1499, and Sorrento says it’s been able to deliver 100% inhibition of the virus in healthy cells after four days of incubation.

Image source: Sorrento

Sorrento has screened “billions of antibodies in its proprietary G-MAB fully human antibody library” and identified hundreds of candidates that can bind to the S1 subunit of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. A dozen of them have been able to block the interaction between S1 and ACE2.

STI-1499 stood out for its ability to “completely block SARS-CoV-2 infection of healthy cells in the experiments.” The company says that the virus was neutralized even in low antibody doses. This antibody will likely be the first antibody to be used in the COVI-SHIELD antibody cocktail that will include a combination of antibodies meant to deal with potential mutations of the coronavirus. STI-1499 is also expected to be used as a standalone therapy in a COVI-GUARD drug, assuming it receives regulatory approval.

Sorrento will request priority evaluation and accelerated review. Clinical trials will have to prove the antibody works just as well in patients as it does in lab conditions.

Assuming STI-1499 is effective and safe, Sorrento says it’ll be able to produce up to 200,000 doses per month, and the company plans to make 1 million of them while it’s waiting for FDA approval. Manufacturing capacity could be increased through partnerships to meet demand. If all goes well, STI-1499 might be among the first brand new drugs developed specifically to treat COVID-19.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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