Victorian antibody research could be key coronavirus vaccine alternative
Victorian scientists have had a breakthrough in using antibodies to prevent coronavirus from infecting human cells in what could be a crucial alternative to a vaccine.Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have been given $500,000 from the Victorian Government to continue developing antibody-based therapies for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19 to block the entry of the virus into cells and stop infection.
The team is sifting through millions of antibodies to find the most potent ones that can target the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus cell.
"You can actually block virus entry and you can also block virus infection," said Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
Antibody-based therapies have already been used in cancer treatments and immune disorders.
"We're very hopeful. We're working as hard as we can," Dr Tham said on Wednesday.
"It's incredibly fast work.
"If we're very hopeful then we're looking at clinical trials early next year."
If successful, the therapy could be used as a prevention before a person tests positive, and also as a treatment in the early stages of the illness.
It may be a key breakthrough in the fight against the virus until a successful vaccine is secured.
It could also be vital for those who cannot get vaccinated because of age or ill health.
"In particular, in settings of elderly populations … prior to outbreak, you can deliver an antibody-based therapy to protect that population that wouldn't be able to mount an immune response [to a vaccine]," Dr Tham said.
How would the antibody treatment work?
Antibodies are proteins that bind to the body's foreign invaders and signal the immune system to get to work.
In this research, scientists are trying to use antibodies that hone in on the spike protein on the virus.
They are hoping to develop a combination of antibodies that will interfere with the function of the spike to prevent it from entering healthy cells and causing infection.
Is the Government funding other coronavirus research?
The antibody research is one of 17 projects sharing in more than $14 million in funding from the Victorian Government.
Other projects include:
- $4 million for The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity for antiviral research to optimise and identify candidate drugs that can be quickly trialled
- $1 million for The Burnet Institute for a study into the effectiveness of isolation, quarantine and social distancing
- $1.4 million for Alfred Health and Monash Partners to examine the long-term physical and psychosocial impacts of COVID-19 on frontline workers
Source: ABC Health