Tiny molecule found effective in preventing and treating COVID in animal models

A tiny part of an antibody that is highly effective in preventing and treating coronavirus in animal models was discovered by University of Pittsburgh scientists and could serve as a potential therapeutic against COVID-19.

Scientists isolated the smallest biological molecule to date that completely neutralizes coronavirus and has been used to make a drug called “Ab8,” the university announced Monday.

“Ab8 not only has potential as therapy for COVID-19, but it also could be used to keep people from getting SARS-CoV-2 infections,” said co-author of the research John Mellors, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Pitt and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The small size of the molecule, which prevented and treated COVID-19 in mice and hamsters, allows the drug to be given via methods such as inhalation, and increases the potential for diffusion in tissues, according to the researchers.

The molecule is an antibody component that is about 10 times smaller than a full-sized antibody.

“The idea is that the antibody will block the spread of the virus throughout the body. The other major use is to prevent infection,” said Mellors.

A dose of the antibody could last for weeks to months and would protect vulnerable populations from getting sick, said Mellors.

Ab8 also does not bind to human cells, which is a sign that it won’t cause negative side effects in patients.

A team at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested Ab8 at varying concentrations in mice using a modified version of SARS-CoV-2 and even at the lowest dose, the drug decreased by 10-fold the amount of infectious virus in those mice compared to their untreated counterparts.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge facing humanity,” said Mellors, “but biomedical science and human ingenuity are likely to overcome it.”

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