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New Research on Antibody Therapy for COVID-19

By: Vamshikrishna Pothireddy

With SARS COV-2, also known as COVID-19, being declared a global pandemic, researchers started the quest to identify a cure for the novel virus which originated in Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China. The researcher’s first technique to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. was through public health announcements from the National Institutes of Health. Even after the insistence of Dr. Fauci and other leading scientists and researchers, the total cases and death count started rising at an astonishing rate. Researchers quickly identified if there were any existing vaccines for similar viruses.

However, this approach to medicine and virology is not appropriate for COVID 19 because viruses always mutate which means they are always evolving. This means researchers cannot use vaccines used to cure previous viruses such as Ebola virus and poliovirus. There are no known treatment methods with national approval and efficiency in group testing, posing difficulty to researchers identifying vaccines for future treatments. The urgency to identify novel solutions led researchers to explore the efficiency of antibody therapy. Although this technique is being hailed as a highly sought out prevention method, more clinical research is needed to evaluate the most effective vaccine therapies.

Antibodies are specialized proteins in the immune system meant to search and destroy foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. When the immune system identifies a foreign invader, antibodies are released to identify and lock into the foreign system with a “Y” shaped protein structure. Antibody therapy is useful as the patient’s own body can adapt to the virus with its immune system mechanisms. However, there are many people with compromised immune systems which means that the patient is unable to create antibodies to attack the foreign invaders.

Recent research invests in transferring COVID-19 antibodies through plasma donation. This technique relies on a person who has recovered from COVID-19 to donate antibodies from their plasma. This allows an immunocompromised person to recover while the donor’s antibodies lock-in and destroy the virus. However, the human body is specific to the antibody. When there is a transfer of fluids, there is a possibility that the patient’s immune system won’t recognize the antibodies as SARS-CoV-2-specific IgG antibodies received from SARS-CoV-2-recovered patients’ antibodies but rather as foreign pathogens. The body would not allow antibodies to be influential to target the SARS COV-2 pathogens specif. The passive rejection of antibodies from the host would waste the antibodies.

In addition to the risk of the rejection of the SARS COV-2 antibody, there is a possibility that the antibody attacks healthy and vital red blood cells and t-cells. This would mean that the antibody would do more harm than benefit the person receiving the antibodies. Also, the neutralizing antibodies for SARS COV-2 can protect against reinfection. The phenomenon is known as antibody-dependent enhancement of infection. The impact of this passive antibody therapy threatens the development of direct SARS COV-2 virus vaccines. With new curiosity from members of the immunology and the virus communities, there is speculation that SARS COV-2 antibodies could disappear within months. This means, even after antibody therapy, those surviving with COVID-19 have the potential vulnerability to be reinfected with the virus.

In a research report in a pre-publication server known as MedRix, researchers from King’s College London identified that antibodies to SARS COV-2 protect against reinfection for 3 weeks and then quickly decline. The study tested 96 patients and front-line health care professionals in a 3-month study.

In the study, 60% of the patients tested had a formidable antibody response when battling the virus. For the other group of patients, the presence of antibodies became undetectable and unidentifiable. The results of the study show that even though patients produce antibodies to respond to the virus, there is a short period where the antibodies stay around.

In another recent research from faculty members of the University of California at Los Angeles, the antibody levels of SARS COV-2 dropped dramatically over a 3-month study of 34 test patients. The research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that by the rate of the novel SARS COV-2 decrease, the rate of antibodies will decrease by half in 73 days. By this rate, the virus will entirely disappear within one year after the addition of the SARS COV-2 antibodies. The researchers studied the blood samples of the patients who recovered from a minute case of COVID-19.

The results of the study dim the opportunity of “immunity passports”, which was the presumptive assumption that the governments allow recovered COVID-19 patients to work and travel. The idea of “immunity passports” was under the assumption that the immune system would not be reinfected.

Although antibodies are the first potential starting point to testing, initiating, and promoting vaccines to the general public, antibody therapy needs an increase in initial stage testing to verify a body’s response to a potential vaccine. Before antibody therapy research continues, researchers must fully develop high-quality tests. Also, the general public must be aware that there is no current research to prove that people infected with COVID-19 are thoroughly immune to catching the virus. Thus, everyone should follow the CDC guidelines even if they have already recovered from the virus.


References:

1. Divij Mathew, Josephine R. Giles, Amy E. Baxter. Deep immune profiling of COVID-19 patients reveals distinct immunotypes with therapeutic implications. Science. 2020.

2. Leticia Kuri-Cervantes, M. Betina Pampena, Wenzhao Meng. Comprehensive mapping of immune perturbations associated with severe COVID-19. Science Immunology. 2020.

3. Mahnaz Ghaebi, Abdolreza Osali, Hamed Valizadeh. Vaccine development and therapeutic design for 2019‐nCoV/SARS‐CoV‐2: Challenges and chances. Journal of Cellular Physiology. 2020.

4. Omolo CA, Soni N, Fasiku VO, Mackraj I, Govender T. Update on therapeutic approaches and emerging therapies for SARS-CoV-2 virus. European Journal of Pharmacology. 2020.

5. Vipul K. Singh, Abhishek Mishra, Shubhra Singh. Emerging Prevention and Treatment Strategies to Control COVID-19. Pathogens. 2020.

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