To develop a preventative treatment for the coronavirus, doctors are enlisting thousands of patients who have already recovered.
Or, more specifically, they're enlisting the coveted antibodies that those patients' immune systems generated in response to the virus.
Doctors and medical researchers from Mount Sinai Health System and the pharmaceutical company Sorrento Therapeutics have partnered up to clone those protective antibodies and use them to mass-produce what they're calling a "pharmaceutical cocktail."
When administered to a naïve — or a yet-uninfected — person, those antibodies could help bolster their immune systems against the coronavirus, similarly to how a vaccine would work. They also hope it could help patients who caught the coronavirus but haven't quite fought it off yet.
According to Sorrento CEO Henry Ji, the yet-undeveloped treatment is expected to protect patients for as much as two months straight — and could help protect more people than a vaccine would.
"A vaccine takes time to generate immunity and not everyone will respond to a vaccine, especially the elderly and immune-compromised patients," Ji told Futurism. "A neutralizing antibody cocktail bypassed the need for a patient to respond to a vaccine and gives instant immunity upon injection."
By partnering with Mount Sinai, Sorrento researchers will get access to the blood samples of about 15,000 patients. All of them were screened for the coronavirus using a diagnostic test developed by Mount Sinai microbiologist Florian Krammer, which got an emergency use authorization from the FDA.
Ultimately, Sorrento hopes to identify which antibodies offer the strongest protection against the coronavirus and clone them en masse.
"It is our belief that as we re-open the country and the economy, we will see local flare-ups of infectious spread of SARS-CoV-2," Ji said in a press release. "Unfortunately, with coronaviruses, mutations are part of the equation and could render therapies ineffective over time."
To make sure the coronavirus doesn't merely adapt and render the cocktail useless, the plan is to include three different antibodies as a sort of failsafe. In that way, Ji said, the therapy "is designed to be resistant to future virus mutations."
Researchers expect to begin clinical trials on both sick and uninfected patients in the coming months. If all goes well, Ji says he expects the experimental therapy to be available by the end of the year, with his team submitting for FDA approval by September.
"We anticipate that we will have the antibodies identified by the end of May and product ready for the clinic mid-July," he said.
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