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Australian antibody therapy can prevent COVID in our most vulnerable

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A Victorian COVID-19 initiative is developing virus-blocking antibodies in what researchers hope will become a key vaccine alternative for the elderly and other immune-compromised groups.

The project, led by Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, has successfully used antibodies to prevent coronavirus from infecting human cells under laboratory conditions.

It was one of two government-sponsored coronavirus-fighting initiatives highlighted by Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday.

Associate professor Wai-Hong Tham said antibody-based therapies had been used to treat cancers and multiple immune disorders.

The breast milk of women who have had a COVID-19 infection contains antibodies against the coronavirus, it has been discovered. Photo: AAP

“We think that it would be an amazing antibody-based tool for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19,” she said.

The treatment targets the coronavirus’s spiked protein, which it uses to enter cells and multiply.

Antibodies block or “gum up” the spikes’ function to interact with human cells and prevent infection.

The Melbourne-based researchers are also developing two types of antibodies to stop mutations escaping.

If the technology works in humans and is approved for use, Professor Tham said it would be administered to protect vulnerable groups, including the elderly, who wouldn’t be able to mount an immune response to a potential vaccine.

But the public may have to wait a while for theory to be put into practice, with no timeframe for the project’s completion.

“If we’re very hopeful, we are looking at clinical trials early next year,” Professor Tham said.

“But it does take time and for us, the most important thing is to make it safe and effective.”

It’s not the only antibody-based treatment for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, with AstraZeneca adding to recent signs of progress on possible medical solutions to the disease.

The British drugmaker, whose COVID-19 vaccine candidate is already among the most advanced, said the early-stage trial would evaluate if AZD7442, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), was safe and tolerable in up to 48 healthy participants between the ages of 18 and 55 years.

If the UK-based trial has a positive readout, AstraZeneca said it would proceed with larger, mid-to-late-stage trials to test AZD7442 as both a preventative treatment for the disease and a medicine for patients who have it.

It said mAbs mimic natural antibodies generated in the body to fight off infection and can be synthesised in the laboratory to treat diseases in patients and has been endorsed by top scientists.

Current uses include treatment of some types of cancers.

London-listed AstraZeneca in June received $US23.7 million in funding from US government agencies to advance the development of antibody-based treatments for the novel coronavirus.

US based companies Regeneron and Eli Lilly are also testing mAbs-based treatments for COVID-19.