Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Monoclonal antibodies and COVID-19

by Professor Gino Martini, RPS Chief Scientist

As the race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 advances, a number of researchers are focusing on finding a short-term way to treat people with the disease by using monoclonal antibodies or mAbs. Rather than developing vaccines to coax the body’s immune system to make its own antibodies, the concept is to inject designer versions of these antibodies to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus directly.  The use of mAbs is popular in the field of cancer treatment and now possibly in combating COVID-19. So how does this work?

Our wonderful Immune System

Our immune system is designed to attack antigens, such as cancer cells and viruses by making proteins called antibodies. These antibodies will circulate throughout the body and will identify these foreign antigens. Attachment of the antibody to the antigen can neutralise the antigen directly and signal to the immune system to release more antibodies.

Researchers can design antibodies that specifically target a certain antigen, such as those found on cancer cells. Once isolated, they can then make many copies of that antibody in the lab, hence the term monoclonal antibodies.

What mAbs are made of

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system. There are 4 different ways they can be made and are named based on what they are made of.

  • Murine: These are made from mouse proteins and the names of the treatments end in -omab.
  • Chimeric: These proteins are a combination of part mouse and part human and the names of the treatments end in -ximab.
  • Humanized: These are made from small parts of mouse proteins attached to human proteins and the names of the treatments end in -zumab
  • Human: These are fully human proteins and the names of the treatments end in -umab.

 

How are mAbs being used to treat COVID 19?

In this approach, researchers isolate antibodies from recovering patients and identify those that best ‘neutralize’ the virus, binding it to and keeping it from replicating. Researchers then produce these antibodies in bulk in the laboratory. If the treatment is found to be effective, companies will scale up production, using cells grown in giant bioreactors.

mAbs differs from ‘convalescent plasma’ treatments, an approach composed of a complex mixture of antibodies and molecules taken directly from the blood of people recovering from COVID-19 and used to treat other patients.

It is important to note that the effects of both approaches are short term; neither type of treatment will produce a long-lasting immune response.

NHS Blood+Transplant are calling for volunteers of those who have recovered from COVID-19 for their clinical trials; your antibody-rich plasma could help other patients to recover from the virus.

As I write this blog – AstraZeneca has just announced that they have just initiated a Phase 1 clinical trial and dosed participants with a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) in development for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Let’s hope the trial is successful – I am confident that Pharma and UK life sciences will deliver!

Loading...

We need your support.

21 Integrationhealthcareteam2@3x

Your dedication and commitment during the pandemic has been exceptional.

As we brace for a potential second wave of coronavirus, we know that pharmacy will be at the forefront of delivering healthcare.

Whether it’s flu vaccinations, dealing with local lockdowns or getting ready to fight a second wave, we need decisions and assurances from the Government now. We must make sure pharmacists get enough supplies of PPE and rapid access to testing in all care settings.

If the enormous mental and physical strain of the past few months is repeated ahead of this winter, the health service will be on its knees. We will be there to make sure pharmacists get mental health and wellbeing support.

We will continue to work hard to give you the tools and guidance to do your job safely. And fight to make sure you get the recognition you deserve.

We are proud to support you. But without you, none of this will be possible.

Become a member and help us do even more.

Joining costs just 60p a day. And means that, whatever the future holds, we will be here for you, so you can support the public and patients.

Join today to protect the future of pharmacy