Sorrento Therapeutics, a small biotech company that is one of several that are racing to create an antibody treatment that could help prevent COVID-19 infections before a vaccine exists, says that it has discovered what could be a breakthrough: an antibody that appears to be able to fully block the virus from infecting healthy cells.
After screening billions of antibodies—the proteins that the immune system uses to neutralize disease—the company found hundreds of potential candidates that can bind to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A dozen of those were found to block the virus from entering cells. But one antibody in particular, which the company calls STI-1499, was particularly successful in early tests in the lab (the results have not yet been released to the public. They have been submitted for peer review but the results are not yet in). “STI-1499 completely neutralized the virus infectivity at a very low antibody dose, making it a prime candidate for further testing and development,” the company, which also makes cancer and pain treatments, said in the announcement.
That means it will likely be the first antibody used in a treatment that the company is developing called Covi-Shield, which people could take to provide temporary protection from infection. Each dose could potentially protect someone for as long as two months, and then they could get another shot. It could be a critical step in making it possible for everyone to safely return to work while we wait for a vaccine to become available. Before this announcement, the company said it hoped to commence trials in humans by the summer.
“This treatment will instantly give people protection and therefore open the economy as soon as it is approved by the FDA,” Sorrento CEO Henry Ji said over email. The company plans to develop a cocktail of three antibodies to help account for the fact that the virus may mutate, although STI-1499 could also potentially be used on its own, and Sorrento plans to also produce a separate treatment.
The company’s stock surged 244% on Friday when it made the announcement. Now it’s working to make the potential treatment available quickly. As with a vaccine, one challenge will be producing enough of the treatment to reach everyone who needs it. In its antibody factory in San Diego, Sorrento plans to produce as many as 200,000 doses each month; it will begin early production as it waits for FDA approval. With support from the government and other partners, it hopes to scale up to producing tens of millions of doses.