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Drug That Could Treat And Prevent COVID-19 Licensed By New UPMC-Backed Company For Worldwide Development

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - A tiny antibody discovered in a Pittsburgh lab may be a huge medical breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus.

UPMC held a press conference Tuesday to explain more about their possible breakthrough: a tiny antibody component that can neutralize the coronavirus.

To date, this is the smallest molecule to completely and specially neutralize the virus that causes COVID-19. It's been used to construct a drug for use against the virus.

The antibody component is 10 times smaller than a full-sized antibody and has been used to create a drug known as Ab8 for use as a therapeutic and preventative against SARS-CoV-2, says a report published Monday in the journal Cell.

The researchers reported that Ab8 is "highly effective" in preventing and treating SARS-CoV-2 infection in mice and hamsters. There are also good signs that it won't have negative side effects in people.

Doctors say this drug could be used for more than a therapy for COVID-19, but that it could also be used to keep people from getting infected with the virus.

Ab8 has been licensed for worldwide development by Abound Bio, a newly formed UPMC-backed company. Clinical trials, which require FDA approval, will start in the beginning of 2021.

Doctors started this research in February. Dr. Dimiter Dimitrov, director of Pitt's Center for Antibody Therapeutics, tried to describe how it felt to make the discovery.

"I cannot explain in words. Its like this golden moment in the life of scientists when we discover something and you're so excited," he said.

Dr. John Mellors explained that this isn't the same as a vaccine.

"When we give a vaccine, we induce lots of different antibodies of different potency," he said. "Here, with this antibody, we're giving a uniform, potent biomolecule that's sole function is to block the virus."

As for pricing? Mellors said it's too early to talk about that.

"On a positive note, the cost of manufacturing antibodies is falling rapidly as the ability to produce increases," he said. "And there are very, very, very few silver linings to COVID, but one of them will be the world will be better prepared to produce biologics like vaccines and antibodies to treat this pandemic -- and heaven forbid -- the next one."

Stay with KDKA for Meghan Schiller's full report starting at 4 p.m.

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