Scientists discuss potential COVID-19 drug

Dimiter Dimitrov, director of University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Antibody Therapeutics, speaks during a news conference Tuesday, on a potential drug they believe will treat and prevent the novel coronavirus.

PITTSBURGH — Scientists have created a potential drug they believe will treat and prevent the novel coronavirus.

They isolated what is believed to be the smallest biological molecule so far that neutralizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

The drug, known as Ab8, was created using an antibody component that’s tiny size could allow it to be administered via inhalation or intradermally, rather than intravenously.

John Mellors is chief of infectious diseases at UPMC and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“(Ab8) is small, which means it penetrates into areas of the body where a full-sized antibody may not,” he said at a press conference Tuesday. “It’s fully human, meaning that there’s no foreign material that’s likely to be rejected by the host. It’s extremely potent … and it appears to be safe.”

The drug does not bind to human cells, which means it probably won’t have negative side-effects in people.

So far, there’s no cost estimate for the drug, which could be available for clinical trials in humans in early 2021.

“It’s really too early to talk about pricing of a treatment when it’s not (tested) in humans yet,” Mellors said.

Ab8 was evaluated in conjunction with scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, as well as the University of British Columbia and University of Saskatchewan.

Dimiter Dimitrov is director of University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Antibody Therapeutics.

He was one of the first to discover neutralizing antibodies for the original SARS coronavirus in 2003. 

Dimitrov’s team discovered potent antibodies against several other infectious diseases, including those caused by MERS-CoV. 

Ab8 has been effective in preventing and treating SARS-CoV-2 infection in mice, he said.

“The discovery of this antibody can contribute to our effort to stop this pandemic,” Dimitrov said.

Mellors and Dimitrov are cofounders of Abound Bio, a newly formed UPMC-backed company that has licensed Ab8 for worldwide development.

Steven Shapiro is UPMC’s chief medical and scientific officer.

“There’s still much work to be done to make (Ab8) available,” he said.

Meanwhile, “masks, distance and hand washing work really well in preventing spread of the infection,” Shapiro said.


React to this story: