Currently, there aren’t any treatment options specific to COVID-19. This has led to many scientists and doctors to try new and innovative therapies. It has also caused several potential therapies to be purported as a treatment without enough information to support these claims, like the old malaria drug, chloroquine. While we do need a treatment, the best way to combat the virus will be through a vaccine.
Normally, the development of new vaccines and treatments takes years. However, with the support of nonprofit organizations, government agencies and regulatory authorities, the pharmaceutical industry is trying to significantly reduce the timeline. The goal is to find a solution to slow the spread of COVID-19 as soon, and safely, as possible.
One Maryland-based biotech company, Novavax, is starting a human trial study for a vaccine next month. In the past, the company worked on experimental vaccines for both SARS and MERS. Both of these are closely related to COVID-19. The company also has vaccines for the seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the last stages of clinical trials. The company said that their vaccine candidate for COVID-19 showed positive results in lab and animal experiments. However, they did note that even if all goes well, a final product that wouldn’t be widely available for more than a year. It’s important to note that they are only one of several companies working on a vaccine.
A stem-cell company, Mesoblast, is starting a patient clinical trial that is looking at whether cells from bone marrow could help people that developed exacerbated immune reaction to the virus recover. Researchers say that this trial could yield initial results within months. There are other stem-cell companies working on other potential therapies. However, these companies aren’t as far along in the process.
Most Americans will agree that despite the promising findings for all of these potential treatments and vaccines, the country can’t wait for them to be available before considering the possibility of allowing people to go back to work and school. This has raised the questions when will it be safe and how do we find this out? Many public health experts are pointing to something called an antibody test, which is a blood test that can tell if an individual has been exposed to the virus at some point and the likelihood of the person’s body to be able to fight off future infections from the same virus. The thought is that if people are believed to be immune, then they might be able to return to work.
The importance of having this information has led to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to issue a statement that it will begin to use antibody tests on a large scale to see what percentage of the population has already been exposed. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is asking for 10,000 healthy volunteers from around the country to test for antibodies. There has been some discussion around possibly issuing certificates of immunity to individuals who have antibodies, which would make them eligible to go back to work. The concern is that tests aren’t always perfect and if a person receives a false positive and goes back to work, they could get sick and pass the disease onto others.