Antibody treatment for COVID-19 ready for clinical trials, says Toronto scientist

TORONTO — A biomedical engineer at the University of Toronto says his team has developed a synthetic antibody that could help those sick with COVID-19 fight off its symptoms.

An antibody injection helps those who are symptomatic and at risk, and who can’t produce necessary antibodies in time to prevent the severe results of COVID-19, says Sachdev Sidhu, who is appointed to the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research.

His team has developed an “antibody we believe should be a therapeutic and we are now working with the National Research Council in Montreal to do what we call a scale up so we can make enough of it that we can do clinical trials,” Sidhu said on CTV’s Your Morning Monday.

Sidhu said he’s hopeful about those results and that, at the same time, they are working to have many doses on hand to treat COVID-19 patients once approval is in place.

About 95 per cent of people can fight off COVID-19 on their own, says Sidhu, who is a professor of molecular genetics in the Faculty of Medicine.

“But if you’re critical, if you’re old, if you’re immune-compromised or vulnerable in our society, you should have this immune boost.”

Sidhu’s lab has received $1.3 million through two rounds of federal grants to accelerate its work. One project is to develop molecules that can target the virus inside cells and another is looking at those that can prevent it from getting in at all.

Antibody treatments have been extremely effective for other diseases, says Sidhu, and the COVID-19 work underway builds on his lab’s deep research into antibody treatments on a range of diseases.

The lab’s team includes researchers with expertise in antibody treatments for SARS, and the genetic sequencing of viruses. According to the University of Toronto, the team has “created hundreds of antibodies with therapeutic potential – some of which are in clinical development through spin-off companies and large pharmaceutical firms.”

Engineering antibodies are different from a vaccine, which is administered before infection, and gives rise to your own antibodies to fight off disease before it can take hold. But vaccine development is a long, complicated process and there is no guarantee of success.

Sidhu points to the HIV as a good example of that.

In contrast, he says his engineered antibody could be ready for clinical trials in two months.

Sidhu says many researchers are working on antibody treatments around the world, including some that are fast-tracking clinical trials. It’s important that Canada be part of that research, he says.

“Canada should have its own antibody treatment to have a secure drug for the Canadian people.” 


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