Scientists in China believe new drug can stop pandemic 'without vaccine'
This picture taken on May 14, 2020 shows a researcher at Peking University's Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics conducting tests at their laboratory in Beijing. The Chinese laboratory says it has developed a drug it believes has the power to bring the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to a halt, shortening the recovery time for those infected and even offering short-term immunity from the virus.
AFP/Wang Zhao

Scientists in China believe new drug can stop pandemic 'without vaccine'

Qian Ye (Agence France-Presse) - May 20, 2020 - 7:48am

BEIJING, China — A Chinese laboratory has been developing a drug it believes has the power to bring the coronavirus pandemic to a halt.

The outbreak first emerged in China late last year before spreading across the world, prompting an international race to find treatments and vaccines.

A drug being tested by scientists at China's prestigious Peking University could not only shorten the recovery time for those infected, but even offer short-term immunity from the virus, researchers say. 

Sunney Xie, director of the university's Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, told AFP that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage.

"When we injected neutralising antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500," said Xie.

"That means this potential drug has (a) therapeutic effect."

The drug uses neutralising antibodies — produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells — which Xie's team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients. 

A study on the team's research, published Sunday in the scientific journal Cell, suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential "cure" for the disease and shortens recovery time.

Xie said his team had been working "day and night" searching for the antibody.

"Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realised that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralising antibody we were thrilled."

He said he hopes that the drug will be ready for use later this year and in time for any potential winter outbreak of the virus, which has infected 4.8 million people around the world and killed more than 315,000.

"Planning for the clinical trial is underway," said Xie, adding it will be carried out in Australia and other countries since cases have dwindled in China, offering fewer human guinea pigs for testing.

"The hope is these neutralising antibodies can become a specialised drug that would stop the pandemic," he said.

China already has five potential coronavirus vaccines at the human trial stage, a health official said last week.

But the World Health Organization has warned that developing a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.

Scientists have also pointed to the potential benefits of plasma — a blood fluid — from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body's defences to attack it.

More than 700 patients have received plasma therapy in China, a process which authorities said showed "very good therapeutic effects".

"However, it (plasma) is limited in supply," Xie said, noting that the 14 neutralising antibodies used in their drug could be put into mass production quickly.

Prevention and cure

Using antibodies in drug treatments is not a new approach, and it has been successful in treating several other viruses such as HIV, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). 

Xie said his researchers had "an early start" since the outbreak started in China before spreading to other countries.

Ebola drug Remdesivir was considered a hopeful early treatment for COVID-19 — clinical trials in the US showed it shortened the recovery time in some patients by a third — but the difference in mortality rate was not significant.

The new drug could even offer short-term protection against the virus.

The study showed that if the neutralising antibody was injected before the mice were infected with the virus, the mice stayed free of infection and no virus was detected.

This may offer temporary protection for medical workers for a few weeks, which Xie said they are hoping to "extend to a few months".

More than 100 vaccines for COVID-19 are in the works globally, but as the process of vaccine development is more demanding, Xie is hoping that the new drug could be a faster and more efficient way to stop the global march of the coronavirus.

"We would be able to stop the pandemic with an effective drug, even without a vaccine," he said.

CHINA NOVEL CORONAVIRUS VACCINE
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: January 19, 2021 - 9:04pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

January 19, 2021 - 9:04pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 2,041,289 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Tuesday.

At least 95,476,360 cases of coronavirus have been registered.

These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and excludes later re-evaluations by statistical organisations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

On Monday, 9,002 new deaths and 512,975 new cases were recorded worldwide. —  AFP

January 18, 2021 - 9:27pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 2,031,048 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally from official sources at 1100 GMT on Monday.

More than 94,964,590 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 57,817,100 are now considered recovered.

These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organisations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain. — AFP

January 18, 2021 - 6:45pm

Nearly three million people were put under lockdown in China Monday after a surge in coronavirus cases linked to a travelling salesman in the country's northeast.

While China has largely brought the virus under control, a sharp rise in cases in the past few weeks has prompted fresh lockdowns, travel restrictions and multiple rounds of mass testing. 

Monday saw three million residents of two cities in northeastern Jilin province placed under new measures, as China reported 109 new infections. —  AFP

January 16, 2021 - 2:04pm

India is set to begin one of the world's largest coronavirus vaccination drives Saturday as the pandemic spread at a record pace and global COVID-19 deaths surged past two million.

The World Health Organization has called for accelerating vaccine rollouts worldwide as well as ramping up efforts to study the sequencing of the virus, which has infected more than 93 million people globally since it was first detected in China in late 2019.

India, home to 1.3 billion people, has the world's second-largest caseload, and the government has given approvals to two vaccines -- though one is yet to complete clinical trials -- aiming to inoculate around 300 million people by July. — AFP

January 16, 2021 - 10:26am

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleges there were COVID-like illnesses among staff at a Chinese virology institute in autumn 2019, casting further blame on Beijing as health experts arrived in the country to probe the pandemic's origins.

The top US diplomat in a statement urged the World Health Organization team that landed Thursday in Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected, to "press the government of China" on the "new information." 

"The United States government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the (Wuhan Institute of Virology) became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses," Pompeo says. — AFP

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