Saturday 06 June 2020

Small-scale testing of Dutch corona medicine ‘within six months’

Illustration: Depositphotos.com

Dutch research into an antibody which can block infection by coronavirus has found potential sponsors in three big pharmaceuticals and small-scale testing could begin within six months months, broadcaster NOS reports.

To turn the antibody into a medicine and enable large-scale production, the research team at Utrecht and Erasmus universities will need to partner up with a big pharmaceutical company.

Principal investigator Berend Jan Bosch told the broadcaster that he has been approached by two or three big companies who are ready to ‘invest millions’ in developing a medicine. The patent would remain in the hands of the researchers, while the pharmaceutical in question will take a licence to the antibody. None of the interested parties were named.

The antibody is currently being tested on animals. If all goes according to plan, a small-scale trial among consenting patients could be carried out within six months, Bosch said.

Bosch, fellow researcher Frank Grosveld  and a team of international investigators went public with the finding in mid March and recently published a paper in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.

Left-over material

The antibody, a remnant of earlier research into coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, was found in a freezer at the Utrecht university lab for animal science. ‘We started work on it and found that one of the antibodies not only bind to the virus but block the infection of the cells as well,’ Bosch said.

The presence of the old material meant the team had a head start in the international scramble to find a medicine or vaccine to combat the virus which has killed 303,000 people worldwide so far. Israel too has discovered antibody, Bosch said, but is about three months behind the Dutch team.

The medicine will be used in two ways, Bosch said. ‘It can be given to people who already have the virus but also to people who don’t have it so the antibody protects them if they are exposed to the virus.’

Even if a vaccine were to be ready next year, the medication will still be useful for people who react badly to vaccines and people with underlying medical problems who are unable to produce antibodies at all, Bosch said.

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