AstraZeneca begins early-stage trial of COVID-19 antibody treatment

LONDON — British drugmaker AstraZeneca said on Tuesday it had started early testing of an antibody-based treatment for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

In a statement sent to NBC News, the company said a Phase 1 clinical trial has begun for an monoclonal antibody combination, and will include up to 48 healthy participants to evaluate its safety and tolerability in human beings.

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made versions of proteins naturally produced by the immune system. They are already used to treat many diseases, including some types of cancer.

“Results are expected later this year and, should it prove successful, AstraZeneca will progress the monoclonal antibody combination to larger Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials,” the statement said.

An antibody treatment approach offers the potential to be used as a preventative option for those exposed to the virus, but also treat patients already infected with COVID-19, the company said, adding that antibodies may also benefit people who do not respond well to vaccines.

Meanwhile, there is also a promising development in the company’s efforts to create a vaccine against the coronavirus.

An experimental COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca developing in conjunction with the University of Oxford could be put before regulators this year if scientists are able to gather enough data, Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said on Tuesday.

“It is just possible that if the cases accrue rapidly in the clinical trials, that we could have that data before regulators this year, and then there would be a process that they go through in order to make a full assessment of the data,” Pollard told BBC Radio.

The Oxford vaccine showed early promise in the first human trial in July when it produced an immune response, making it one of the leading candidates in the race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine.

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There are dozens of countries and companies around the world pursuing a vaccine, but researchers had previously said it may take years before one is found.

Though vaccines are at the heart of the long-term fight against the pandemic, alternative treatments are also being advanced.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump announced Sunday his administration was providing an emergency authorization for the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19, a treatment that more than 70,000 patients have already received.

The treatment, which involves taking antibody-rich blood product from recovered coronavirus patients and providing it to those afflicted with the virus, has shown some benefit to patients, but evidence remains inconclusive about its effectiveness and appropriate dosage. The trials have been riddled with delays and issues with finding volunteers.

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