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September 17, 2020

Pitt scientists isolate tiny molecule that may prevent COVID-19

Antibody component proves effective as a therapeutic and prophylactic in animals

Illness COVID-19
University of Pittsburgh Coronavirus Kristoffer Tripplaar/SIPA USA

University of Pittsburgh researchers isolated a COVID-19 antibody component that could be used to neutralize and prevent the coronavirus.

University of Pittsburgh scientists working to develop better COVID-19 treatments may have made a significant breakthrough. 

The researchers isolated the smallest biological molecule to date that can neutralize the coronavirus. The molecule, which is 10 times smaller than a full-sized antibody, has been used to create a drug that could be used to treat and prevent COVID-19. 

A small-sized antibody is advantageous, allowing the treatment to be inhaled or injected rather than given through an IV. Its size also provides the potential for tissue diffusion. 

The drug, named Ab8, effectively neutralized and prevented the coronavirus in mice and hamsters. Researcher said it could be used to treat COVID-19 patients while preventing the virus from spreading. Their findings were published Monday in the journal Cell. 

Abound Bio, a newly-formed company backed by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has licensed the drug for development, CBS Pittsburgh reported. Clinical trials could begin in 2021, pending approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

"Antibodies of larger size have worked against other infectious diseases and have been well tolerated, giving us hope that it could be an effective treatment for patients with COVID-19 and for protection of those who have never had the infection and are not immune," Dr. John Mellors, UPMC chief of infectious diseases, said in a statement. 

The initial clinical trials would seek to determine the safety of the drug. Additional trials would be necessary to determine its efficacy before the FDA authorizes its use. 

Other UMPC researchers  are working on a SARS-CoV-2 microneedle vaccine, which is administered through a velcro-like patch to infected patients. 

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