China tests a drug that can cure coronavirus

A Chinese laboratory has developed a drug it believes has the power to bring the coronavirus pandemic to a halt.

The drug now being tested by scientists at China’s prestigious Peking University could shorten the recovery time for those infected.

It can also offer short-term immunity from the virus, researchers say.

Sunney Xie, director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, said that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage.

“When we injected neutralising antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” said Xie.

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“That means this potential drug has (a) therapeutic effect.”

The drug uses neutralising antibodies — produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells — which Xie’s team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients.

A study on the team’s research, published Sunday in the scientific journal Cell, suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential “cure” for the disease and shortens recovery time.

Xie said his team had been working “day and night” searching for the antibody.

“Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realised that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralising antibody we were thrilled.”

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He said he hopes that the drug will be ready for use later this year and in time for any potential winter outbreak of the virus, which has infected 4.8 million people around the world and killed more than 315,000.

“Planning for the clinical trial is underway,” said Xie, adding it will be carried out in Australia and other countries since cases have dwindled in China, offering fewer human guinea pigs for testing.

“The hope is these neutralising antibodies can become a specialised drug that would stop the pandemic,” he said.

China already has five potential coronavirus vaccines at the human trial stage, a health official said last week.

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But the World Health Organization has warned that developing a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.