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Fauci really thinks a breakthrough coronavirus drug will be here by fall

Published Jul 18th, 2020 9:01AM EDT
Coronavirus Vaccine
Image: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP

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  • Coronavirus vaccines aren’t the only new COVID-19 drugs in advanced testing. A different type of medicine that could have a huge impact on the pandemic is also nearing the final stages of human testing.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said monoclonal antibody drugs, which can both neutralize the virus and provide temporary immunity to prevent infections, could be ready by early fall.
  • The infectious disease expert did not name any brands, but several drugmakers are testing such drugs.

It’s not just novel coronavirus vaccine candidates that are in advanced phases of human trials right now, and it’s not just COVID-19 vaccines that could be ready for emergency use before the end of the year. We’ve often talked about a new type of medicine that could work well against the new virus. On top of that, this category of drug tech can be applied to other infectious diseases to offer vaccine-like protection, though it wouldn’t be long-lasting immunity like you get with vaccines. The best part is that Dr. Anthony Fauci is already confident this new type of coronavirus drug could be available as soon as this coming fall.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has not shied away from expressing his optimism regarding specific therapies that can work for COVID-19. He was the one who revealed that remdesivir can reduce recovery time. He praised Moderna’s vaccine results that showed the drug can generate the required neutralizing antibodies to stop an infection. He also said more than once that if everything goes well, the first COVID-19 vaccines could be available in late 2020 or early 2021.

His latest remarks concern monoclonal antibodies and were made during an interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. We detailed several of the drugs that are in testing right now, including one that obtained $450 million in funding from the US government. We also told you that some of these breakthrough drugs could be available even before vaccines, and Fauci seems to confirm that notion.

Monoclonal antibody drugs are synthetic drugs based on human or animal antibodies that can block the spike protein on the exterior of the virus from hooking up to ACE receptors on human cells in the lung and other organs. This is the crucial process the virus needs to infiltrate the cell and take over its colossal chemical plant. It’s inside cells that the virus makes thousands of copies of itself, which then proceed to infect other cells. The bigger the viral load, the more likely a patient is to develop symptoms and complications, especially if the immune system fails to take action.

Many people can survive the infection on their own. They generate antibodies that bind to the spike protein and annihilate the virus’s ability to replicate. But not all patients will be able to mount a robust immune response. The goal of vaccines is to teach the body to fight a COVID-19 infection and generate circulating antibodies that would neutralize the virus once it enters the body. But vaccines will do nothing for people who are already infected.

That’s where monoclonal antibody drugs come in. They would come to the aid of the immune system in coronavirus patients, lending them potent antibodies that can block the virus. A patient could recover faster and avoid complications as a result. Monoclonal antibodies would also offer vaccine-like protection for people who aren’t infected, but the immunity will disappear once the circulating antibodies are gone from one’s system. Unlike vaccines, monoclonal antibody drugs do not teach the immune system to mass-produce new antibodies on demand.

Fauci described monoclonal drugs as “precise bullets,” per Bloomberg. “What we really need are drugs that, when given early, can prevent a symptomatic person from requiring hospitalization or very dramatically diminish the time that they’re symptomatic,” Fauci said.

The doctor said that he expects results from a clinical trial on monoclonal antibodies by late summer or early fall, without naming any specific companies working on the drugs. These trials are conducted in multiple phases, just like vaccine research. Drugmakers have trials lined up to test the efficacy of the monoclonal drugs on existing COVID-19 patients, and to see whether they can offer temporary immunity to patients who have not been infected.

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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