With the Coronavirus pandemic raging on globally and number of new cases on the rise, the ultimate goal in the fight against it is finding a safe vaccine to prevent new infections and most efficacious treatment available against the novel virus.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, there have been potential advances made exploring among many the use of convalescent plasma, monoclonal antibodies, and latest advancement on vaccine development.
I will briefly delve into each of these. Check out full report here
Monoclonal antibody therapy
Fast-forward, I will explain what some of these terms mean;
Antibody – These are proteins/soldiers your white blood cells produce to fight off disease causing organisms or cells in your own body that are harmful such as cancer cells. These molecules are very specific, they are produced for a very specific trigger, such as COVID-19.
Monoclonal antibodies – these are molecules that are manufactured in the laboratory to act as a substitute that can restore or mimic or increase the efficiency of the soldiers (antibodies that were already produced).
Monoclonal antibody therapy is the kind of therapy where your own body is empowered to produce antibodies to fight disease, in our case, COVID-19. This treatment is either for healing purposes or for prevention against COVID-19. According to the report released by the infectious disease experts, there are pharmaceutical companies making these therapies for treating COVID-19 patients as we wait for the vaccine to be distributed in a year or two.
Convalescent plasma therapy.
As of today, no drug has been proved to be safe for treating patients with Covid-19. Some doctors are using convalescent plasma therapy to treat their patients. People who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies.
Plasma is the clear, straw-colored portion of blood. Convalescent plasma, therefore, is plasma of a person recovering from an illness (e.g. COVID-19) or medical treatment and is introduced into the body of those who are infected. Researchers hope that this can boost the immune system of those with severe illness and in addition prevent those who are moderately ill from getting worse and experiencing serious complications of COVID-19.
This is not new. It was discovered in 1901. There was a noble prize given. This therapy is safe and can move very quickly through clinical trials. Scientists have also been and are still using plasma to manage patients with bleeding disorders, and surgical bleeding, in that case it is administered as fresh frozen plasma. Researchers want to enhance it for management of COVID-19 patients.
Why convalescent therapy?
Convalescent plasma therapy could help patients with greatest risk of severe complications such as those with chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and those whose immune systems are too weak. This therapy helps their bodies fight better if they got infected with COVID-19.
Frontline health workers who are exposed to Covid-19 including family members could benefit a lot from this therapy. Their bodies will be ready to fight Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
What are the risks involved?
Like blood transfusion, convalescent plasma therapy carries the risk of causing allergic reactions, transmission of infections such as HIV, and Hepatitis B and C. It’s worth noting that every therapy has a downside, but the benefit-risk ratio is always higher since these individuals have already recovered fully from COVID-19.
What is done before it is administered to patients?
Tests are carried out to make sure the donor is not infected with HIV, hepatitis B and C or any other infection because they could potentially transmit these to the individual receiving this treatment.
Your doctor will order for convalescent plasma that is compatible with your blood type – it is therefore extremely important to know your blood type.
It is only your doctor who will decide whether or not you will need the convalescent plasma therapy.
After administration, the recipient is closely monitored in case of any allergic reactions, and follow up visits are done. All this is done to mitigate risks associated with the therapy.
Please note that you cannot get infected with COVID-19. These donors recover fully and it is only the antibodies which were produced to fight the infection that are present in their plasma. There is no virus present when they completely recover from Covid-19. This is only a way of harvesting antibodies to enhance the immune response of those who are unfortunately unable to fight COVID-19 and have not built a robust immune response.
The latest update on COVID-19 vaccine
A vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease COVID-19 is perhaps the best hope for ending the pandemic. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, but researchers are working hard to find one.
There are three phases involved in the vaccine development timeline. According to WHO list of candidates developing a vaccine for COVID-19, out of 125 candidates, only 10 have advanced into clinical evaluation. One has crossed to phase III (formulation and doses of the vaccine to prove the vaccine’s effectiveness of clinical trials)
Check out WHO list for vaccine candidates.
According to the New Journal of England, one of the candidates has been able to induce antibodies against COVID-19. This is promising, but we hope that these antibodies will be sufficient to protect against COVID-19.
How much longer should we wait?
In an era of widespread vaccine hesitancy, there is an urgent need for a better and an in-depth understanding of how vaccines are developed and how they work so as to sustain confidence in vaccine programs. Thus manufacturing of vaccines must follow quality and safety controls. This process lasts many moths to years.
A vaccine is first tested in animals to see if it works and if it is safe. This is done under strict laboratory guidelines and usually lasts 3-4 months
Then comes testing in healthy humans.i.e. people who do not have the infection (e.g. COVID-19) purposely to prevent the infection. Therefore, safety is paramount. We should be worried about safety concerns and risking healthy individuals getting gravely affected by the vaccine so we cannot rush the entire process. The vaccine candidates who are already in phase 2 could easily advance to phase 3, thus efficacy testing might start in a couple of months.
According to NJEM report and frontline researchers on vaccine development, the race to developing a vaccine is on, however, the most difficult part will be producing in large quantities and making sure it is distributed to everyone who needs it. This could take 1-2 years.