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Published on October 06, 2020

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What Are Antibodies and How Can They Help Treat COVID-19?

You’ve likely heard a lot about antibodies lately as they relate to the possible treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

That’s because antibodies are naturally created in our bodies to stop viruses from spreading. It’s no surprise that researchers are looking to these powerful proteins to help treat and even prevent COVID-19.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t yet approved any treatments for COVID-19, but many research efforts are underway. These treatments are considered experimental therapies until they are approved by the FDA. Avera has been involved with two clinical trials using antibodies for coronavirus in different ways.

What’s an Antibody?

An antibody is a protein and the human body produces many types of them. These antibodies can recognize viruses as foreign invaders by binding to parts of the virus. When this happens, it can block entry into a person’s cells. This can be critical to preventing disease, but it can also prevent a virus from progressing further.

“We know antibodies play a role in neutralizing infection. The concept is to test this ability for COVID-19 as a potential treatment option when nothing else exists,” said Jawad Nazir, MD, an Avera Medical Group Infectious Disease specialist and principal investigator in the monoclonal antibody study.

So, what’s the difference between convalescent and monoclonal antibody therapies?

Convalescent Therapy

People who recover from COVID-19 have antibodies that may be effective against COVID-19. This type of therapy takes plasma from recovered patients and then transfuses the plasma into sick patients. Blood plasma therapy has treated other diseases as far back as the 1918 influenza pandemic and more recently for SARS and Ebola outbreaks.

Monoclonal Antibody Therapy

When an antibody is found effective in preventing or treating a disease it can then be copied in a lab for more widespread use. Lab-made antibodies can be effective in both preventing a disease from spreading in the body after exposure or stopping the progression of a disease.

Monoclonal antibody therapy is also done by giving the patient an infusion into the blood. However, laboratory-made antibodies may not last as long, requiring multiple infusions for continued effectiveness. Monoclonal antibodies have been used to treat some types of cancer. A triple antibody therapy to treat Ebola is currently under review by the FDA.

Both these trials are helping to progress the research efforts for COVID-19.

“We’ve learned that neutralizing antibodies, or preventing the start or progression of disease, is key to treating and even preventing COVID-19,” said Amy Elliott, PhD, Chief Clinical Research Officer of the Avera Center for Pediatric and Community Research. “Convalescent plasma therapy led us to understand COVID-19 better and informed our decision on where to focus more of our resources.”

Learn more about our research efforts at Avera.org/covid-19. If you think you or someone you know may be eligible for any of these studies call 605-504-3154.

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