Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, encouraged scientists to work on Covid-19 antibody treatments with the same urgency he has already seen the community bring to research during this pandemic.
“Keep pressing forward. Everything we’re talking about now really matters. Lives are at stake,” Collins said. “The world is waiting.”
Collins’ focus in an online discussion Thursday was on the latest science behind monoclonal antibody treatments and convalescent plasma. Both are under investigation in a variety of clinical trials to treat and possible prevent Covid-19.
With monoclonal antibody treatments, scientists clone antibodies that they think will be most effective at fighting a disease and put that into a treatment.
Eli Lilly Inc., whose treatment uses one potent antibody, is currently putting its antibody treatment through a few late-stage human trials. Regeneron Inc. uses two antibodies in the treatment it’s testing in late-stage trials. Several other companies’ antibody treatments are in earlier stages of development.
In the discussion Thursday, scientists presented evidence that they think these treatments will not cause antibody-dependent enhancement – where a treatment makes a disease worse. Collins said the government will be monitoring the trials closely to see if the problem develops or if there is any evidence of viral resistance to the treatments.
A cocktail approach reduces the risk of a treatment becoming ineffective if the virus were to mutate, studies have shown. Some companies have been reluctant to use more than one antibody in a treatment because it may slow the manufacturing process.
Collins said if the treatment was well-designed, that may not be as much of an issue.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, therapeutic lead for Operation Warp Speed, said the government is committed to making sure these therapies work in head-to-head clinical trials.
“We hope to be testing the efficacy of a number of neutralizing monoclonal antibodies and possibly other types, so perhaps polyclonal antibodies in parallel, in randomized clinical trials,” Woodcock said. “This provides, I think, a tremendous opportunity.”