VCU studies ‘neutralizing antibody’ that could prevent COVID-19’s spread

Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 11:42 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - As the country waits for a viable vaccine to emerge, which could put an end to the COVIC-19 pandemic, VCU Medical Center is beginning a new clinical trial that aims to use laboratory-created antibodies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among people who test positive and their household contacts.

“This study is designed to determine whether giving people antibodies in the lab can block the virus from infecting cells (and) will prevent them from getting the infection,” said Dr. Micahel Donnenberg. “This study falls into the category of passive immunization which is contracted with active immunization, which refers to vaccines."

Donnenberg is a senior associate dean for research and research training at VCU School of Medicine and is leading the trial at VCU Health, which is among the first sites in Virginia to offer this antibody-drug to household members of someone with COVID-19. The clinical trial is run by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

According to researchers, household contacts have about a 10-15% risk of getting COVID-19. While not a vaccine, they hope that by using a laboratory-created antibody they can slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 among people who are unable to isolate from each other.

Donneberg says they are specifically looking for people who live with an individual who has been confirmed COVID-19 positive for at least 96 hours after diagnosis.

“You have to be a household contact that’s living in the same home with somebody who is newly infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Donneberg. “There are two antibodies and subjects either get a placebo or they get a combination of antibodies that bind to the proteins on the surface of the virus so that it can no longer enter into the cells.”

Donneberg says while treatments like this have the advantage of working quicker than vaccines, it is not without its limitations. He says that lab-created antibodies are temporary and typically don’t last as long as antibodies your body creates from a vaccine.

“In this case, these antibodies are ready to go as soon as you take the shot, but on the other hand, immunity can be life long or at least for a year, so when you get a vaccine it can last for a very long time, while these antibodies will fade over time," he said.

Ultimately researchers are trying to figure out the efficacy of this kind of treatment.

“This study will continue with a 28-day window where we’ll see if it works to prevent the infection and then there is a followup for a total of five months to see how long the antibodies will persist in the body,” said Donneberg.

VCU Health hopes to start enrolling participants in the trial as early as next week. For a list of clinical trials that are currently enrolling participants at VCU and VCU Health, click HERE. To learn more about research and clinical trials at VCU Health, click HERE.

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