Scientists in China believe new drug can stop pandemic

Grant Boone
May 21, 2020

More than 100 potential vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are being developed, including several in clinical trials, but the World Health Organization in April had warned that a vaccine would take at least 12 months.

The outbreak was first reported in China late past year before spreading across the world, prompting an global race to find treatments and vaccines.

Researchers say a drug has been tested by scientists at China's prestigious Peking University. Sunney Xie, director of the university's Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, said that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage. Needless to say, that's a massive reduction in the amount of virus in the body and could have a dramatic effect on health outcomes if the same proves to be true for humans.

The drug uses neutralized antibodies that protect the human immune system cells from the virus, which the Chinese research team separated from the blood of 60 healthy people.

Dr Xie said his team's "expertise is in single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology".

"Planning for the clinical trial is underway", said Prof Xie, adding it will be carried out in Australia and other countries since cases have dwindled in China.

Apple and Google contact-tracing software released
This has also highlighted the privacy shortcomings of other approaches that user location data and store it on government servers. The companies said 22 countries and several U.S. states are already planning to build voluntary phone apps using their software.

Thailand, the first country outside China to detect a case of the coronavirus in January, wants to be one of the first to have a vaccine ready for use, Taweesin said.

The COVID-19 outbreak first emerged in China's Hubei province in late 2019, before spreading across the world to become a pandemic and triggering an worldwide race against time to develop treatments and vaccines. The research team isolated these antibodies from the blood of nearly 60 COVID-19 recovered patients.

More than 700 patients have had plasma therapy in China, a process which the authorities said showed "very good therapeutic effects". This new treatment cuts out the middleman, so to speak, by injecting virus-fighting antibodies directly into a person's bloodstream.

"However, it (plasma) is limited in supply", said Xie.

Ebola drug Remdesivir was considered a hopeful early treatment for COVID-19 - clinical trials in the USA showed it shortened the recovery time in some patients by a third - but the difference in mortality rate was not significant. It's now being tested at Peking University, and if it proves to be safe and effective we may not have to wait for a vaccine in order to feel a bit safer in the midst of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Thaweesilp said Thailand continued to record single-digit new cases and no fatalities over the last 24 hours bringing the tally to 3,034 cases with the death toll remaining at 56.

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