AstraZeneca Initiates Phase 1 Trial of COVID-19 Antibody Treatment in the UK

by Ruchi Jhonsa
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While companies are racing to test and develop the vaccines against COVID-19, a potential method of treatment is emerging that could provide instant immunity boost against the virus.

By Ruchi Jhonsa, Ph.D.

The novel treatment is based on lab-synthesized monoclonal antibodies, which are similar in action and structure to the antibodies that the body produces to neutralize viruses. Several companies are working on designing and testing monoclonal antibodies that can potentially neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While many are still in the research phase, some of the companies have successfully taken them into human clinical trials.

On May 29th, Eli Lilly and AbCellera initiated the first Phase 1 human trial of their monoclonal antibody in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. This was followed by testing of Regeneron’s antibody cocktail, which combines spike protein antibody recovered from convalescent plasma with antibody derived from a mouse immunized with the spike protein.

On August 25th, a third contender joined this race. UK based pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca today announced that it had initiated testing of monoclonal antibodies that the company licensed from Vanderbilt University in June this year. Dubbed AZD7442, the treatment combines two mAbs derived from convalescent patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The aim of giving two monoclonal antibodies in combination is to retain the effectiveness of the treatment in the case spike protein of the virus mutates. In their original form, the antibodies were effective in neutralizing the virus. However, AstraZeneca tweaked the antibodies such that they have a greater half-life and reduced receptor binding. A bigger half-life guarantees at least six months of protection from COVID-19. In preclinical testing, these antibodies successfully controlled the infection by blocking the binding of the antibody to the host cells.

Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, BioPharmaceuticals R&D, said: “This trial is an important milestone in the development of our monoclonal antibody combination to prevent or treat COVID-19. This combination of antibodies, coupled to our proprietary half-life extension technology, has the potential to improve both the effectiveness and durability of use in addition to reducing the likelihood of viral resistance.”

Funded by DARPA, part of the US Department of Defense and BARDA, the trial NCT04507256 will evaluate the safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics of the AZ antibody cocktail. It will include up to 48 healthy participants in the UK between the ages of 18 to 55. If the vaccine is found well-tolerated and safe, it will be taken into larger cohort trials where its efficacy will be determined.

Related Article: USFDA Chief Apologizes For Overstating Benefits of Convalescent Plasma Therapy



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