Health Team

Coronavirus antibody work at UNC showing promise

Posted May 28, 2020 4:44 p.m. EDT
Updated May 28, 2020 9:29 p.m. EDT

— While some researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are part of the global push to develop a coronavirus vaccine, others say efforts to develop antibodies to the virus show even more promise for quick relief.

"The quest for a vaccine is critical and is likely to be successful over some reasonably short period of time," said Dr. Mike Cohen, director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease.

But vaccines take time to work and they don’t work in everyone, Cohen said, "so an alternative is, if you know the target the virus is seeking, you might make a weapon."

That weapon is monoclonal antibodies, and he said human trials for virus antibodies could start at UNC as early as next month.

"I’m really, really excited about the experiments we’re planning on doing with monoclonal antibodies," said Cohen, who also is involved in UNC's vaccine research and efforts to develop anti-viral treatments.

The antibody research uses cells from patients who have recovered from their coronavirus infection to help others.

"We search many, many people looking for one cell that’s making the best antibody," he said. "So a smidgen of the antibody made by that cell can bind the virus. By binding the virus, the virus can’t infect you, or if it does infect you, less will infect you."

Once researchers find that best possible antibody, he said, they hope to replicate it in a lab and use it as a weapon to fight COVID-19 in other patients.

"I believe there’s the possibility that they could make a major contribution quickly in the most vulnerable population," he said. "There’s at least two benefits – a potential treatment benefit and a potential prevention benefit."

Cohen said vaccine work at UNC could produce results by late 2020.

"I’m pretty sure, based on what I know today, we’ll have some preliminary results by the end of the year," he said.

UNC research teams are working tirelessly to fight the virus from many angles, Cohen said.

"I can’t see how we can work faster than we’re working already – or harder – and I would hope that UNC would make a big contribution [in the pandemic fight]," he said.

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