Recently, the president of the United States tested positive for Covid-19. During his time at Walter Reed Medical Center, he received various treatments. One treatment given to him was an experimental drug, which is still in clinical trial phases. He has since called this drug a “cure” and has even talked about making the drug free for all.
Science has to be a bit more careful before claiming a “cure” for Covid-19, but is the president closer to being correct this time? His past claims on hydroxychloroquine have consistently been proven wrong in robust clinical studies. Just what is this drug he received, and what does it do?
The drug in question is a cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies that Regeneron has been working on since the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. Another company, Eli Lilly, has been doing the same thing as Regeneron. Both have seen stocks jump after the president’s comments and have applied for emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I have been reading over the drug’s production and finding as much clinical trial data as possible these past few days. Calling the treatment a “cure” is inaccurate. Still, of all the potential therapies out there, monoclonal antibodies are certainly one of the top candidates for an effective treatment.
Monoclonal antibodies have been around since the late 1970s. Today they are booming in the pharmaceutical fields and helping many people with a variety of disorders. The technique used to make them earned the researchers the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1984. They have proven to be safe and very effective treatments. I have written about them in past articles and will forgo that review here. However, if you missed those, I suggest watching a video by John Nguyen titled Monoclonal Antibody Production. You can find it and a few others he has made by searching his name on YouTube.
Suppose you wish to dive into the details of Regeneron’s novel approach. In that case, I can suggest two journal publications that are both free the read. The first is titled “Studies in humanized mice and convalescent humans yield a SARS-CoV-2 antibody cocktail.” The second is titled “Antibody cocktail to SARS-CoV-2 spike protein prevents rapid mutational escape seen with individual antibodies.” Both of these articles we published in the prestigious journal “Science” back in August
To sum it up, the scientists at Regeneron have painstakingly searched through libraries of antibodies that bind the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. After a tremendous amount of meticulous research, they settled on two antibodies (REGN10933 and REGN10987) that bind very tightly to different regions of the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the viral spike proteins. The RBD is the part of the virus that must fit into your cells receptors (lock and key) to get inside and replicate. Blocking the RBD would stop the virus. Regeneron’s brilliance is that they know the virus can mutate. Natural selection would favor any virus that can avoid being bound by their manufactured antibodies. Previous research has shown that SARS-CoV-2 can evolve quickly to avert a single monoclonal antibody. However, picking up mutations to avoid multiple monoclonal antibodies attached to different spike protein parts is more complicated.
Understanding Darwin’s game is the key, and it is apparent that they do. Regeneron is onto something here, not a “cure” but very promising.