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COVID-19 antibodies last at least three months; so do symptoms for many

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

FILE PHOTO: Convalescent plasma samples in vials are seen before being tested for COVID-19 antibodies at the Bloodworks Northwest Laboratory during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Renton, Washington, U.S. September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

COVID-19 antibodies last at least three months

People infected with COVID-19 develop antibodies targeting the new coronavirus that last for at least three months, according to two reports published on Thursday in Science Immunology. The two studies, together involving nearly 750 patients, both point to immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies, which start showing up well after an infection begins, as the longest-lasting. Researchers found IgG antibodies with two targets – a spike protein on the virus that helps it infect cells, and a part of the spike called the receptor binding domain (RBD) – lasted more than 100 days. While the protective effect of COVID-19 antibodies is not completely clear, Jen Gommerman of the University of Toronto, coauthor of the study, said her team also found levels of so-called neutralizing antibodies, which inactivate the virus, “appeared to be very stable.” The other study, from Harvard Medical School, reported similar findings. This means that a properly designed vaccine “should elicit a durable antibody response that has the potential to neutralize the virus,” Gommerman said. Her group also found that antibodies in saliva correlated with antibodies in blood, but at this point the saliva tests are not sensitive enough to replace blood tests. (;

COVID-19 symptoms linger for months for many

Three months after becoming ill, many COVID-19 patients still have symptoms, two studies confirm, and the more severe the initial infections, the higher the odds of persistent problems. In Spain, doctors checked back with 108 patients, including 44 who had been severely ill. At 12 weeks after diagnosis, 76% still reported after-effects, with 40% reporting three or more coronavirus-related health issues, doctors said in a paper posted on Thursday on medRxiv ahead of peer review. The most common complaints were shortness of breath, physical weakness, cough, chest pain, palpitations, and psychological and cognitive disorders. In a similar study of 233 U.S. COVID-19 patients – eight of whom had been severely ill – one in four still had symptoms 90 days after first feeling ill. Rates were higher for patients who had been sicker: 59.4% at 30 days and 40.6% at 90 days. “But even for very mild and initially asymptomatic cases, 14.3% have complications persist for 30 days or longer,” the authors reported on Sunday on medRxiv. In the U.S. study, the most common persistent symptoms were impaired smell and taste, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, memory loss, confusion, headache, heart palpitations, chest pain, pain with deep breaths, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat. (;

Remdesivir cut COVID-19 recovery time by 5 days

Final data from a large study of Gilead Sciences Inc’s GILD.O

COVID-19 Antibodies Raise Unanswered Clinical Questions

While monoclonal antibody treatment may hold promise for COVID-19, its clinical benefit has yet to be proven, said experts from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).

In a media briefing, IDSA experts discussed that while manufacturers of monoclonal antibody treatment, Regeneron and Eli Lilly, both applied for emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA to treat COVID-19, the data on both so far have yet to demonstrate any impact on patient care.

Reviewing the data, Adarsh Bhimraj, MD, co-chair of the IDSA COVID-19 Treatment and Management Guidelines Expert panel, noted how the endpoints of both trials examined decreases in viral load for patients. He characterized these as surrogate endpoints, or “disease-oriented endpoints,” which are only meaningful if they translate into patient-oriented outcomes, such as preventing death or disability.

“Curing the virus is not the same thing as curing the patient and making them better,” he said.

Bhimraj even compared these antibody therapies to the saga of hydroxychloroquine, which was also shown to have “a very fast reduction in viral load” in early studies, “but randomized controlled trials did not translate into patients getting better or not dying.”

Helen Boucher, MD, member of the IDSA Board of Directors, said she wanted to support the FDA in their efforts to make evidence-based decisions about EUAs, saying they wanted to keep “everyone assured when we make recommendations, they’re believable and everyone can feel good about them.”

Bhimraj pointed to the situation with convalescent plasma, which received an EUA outside the context of a randomized clinical trial.

“We don’t have clinical trial data and it’s been used in thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “An EUA is important, but … what are the consequences … of an EUA and what are the collateral effects, especially when other therapies exist?”

He emphasized how important it was to “let science and let objectivity … determine the decision-making rather than any kind of political pressure.”

Boucher noted that the difference between having enough data for an EUA application was different than having enough data for a decision to be made. She suggested if the FDA wanted more data, it could convene an advisory committee to help in the decision-making process, “but it’s not a requirement, as far as I know.”

She added that even if an EUA is issued, that’s only half the battle, given how much manufacturers would need to scale up to meet demand.

“Any kind of authorization or approval doesn’t necessarily mean the drug is available to anyone who needs it,” Boucher said.

Using the example of 50,000 people who may be infected with COVID-19 on any particular day, even 20% of those patients ending up in the hospital would require more product than the companies are prepared to produce right now. Boucher said it would take “months” to manufacture enough to treat everyone in this country who needs it.

Cost is potentially another issue, with the other existing COVID-19 treatments potentially being much less expensive. Boucher said the steroid, dexamethasone, costs

20% of Chicagoans in blood-test study came up positive for coronavirus antibodies

Nearly 1 in 5 Chicago residents who sent blood-spot samples to Northwestern University researchers tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to preliminary results of an ongoing study.

a man standing in a kitchen preparing food: Thomas McDade, a biological anthropology professor at Northwestern University, holds blood samples in June from research participants in a study for coronavirus antibodies.

© Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Thomas McDade, a biological anthropology professor at Northwestern University, holds blood samples in June from research participants in a study for coronavirus antibodies.

That 20% infection rate is higher than the scientists anticipated based on earlier research, said Dr. Elizabeth McNally, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. One study by other Northwestern researchers tested hospital workers from across the Chicago region and found antibodies in less than 5%.

a stack of flyers on a table: Thomas McDade, a biological anthropology professor at Northwestern University, shows blood samples in June from research participants in a study for coronavirus antibodies.

© Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Thomas McDade, a biological anthropology professor at Northwestern University, shows blood samples in June from research participants in a study for coronavirus antibodies.

The latest project, called Screening for Coronavirus Antibodies in Neighborhoods, or SCAN, is examining infection rates in five pairs of adjoining Chicago ZIP codes where rates of previously reported COVID-19 cases differed widely. Though the research is continuing, McNally said enough testing has been done to draw some initial conclusions.

“It’s telling us that exposure was higher than we thought, that it was higher than we thought throughout Chicago,” McNally said.

The researchers noted that the SCAN team is using a particularly sensitive test for COVID-19 antibodies and therefore is likely identifying more exposures than others have found. The Northwestern researchers who tested hospital workers, for example, used a different antibody test.

“Those commercial tests are missing maybe 25% of people … whereas ours don’t,” McNally said.

In the ongoing study, participants mail in a drop of dried blood to the researchers, who then test it for the COVID-19 antibodies. It’s an inexpensive option that doesn’t require visiting a medical facility.

The SCAN study, launched in late June, set out to test about 3,000 people in 10 Chicago ZIP codes, and so far more than 1,000 tests have been analyzed, McNally said. Researchers are finding some differences in exposure rates among the ZIP codes but said they need to gather more test results before reaching any conclusions.

In the city as a whole, 82,551 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported as of Tuesday, or about 3% of the city’s 2.7 million people. The true number of people infected, however, is certainly far larger.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that was based on antibody testing concluded that actual COVID-19 infection rates were at least 10 times higher than the official reported case count in most locations around the country.

Official counts are based on tests that detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. That type of testing can’t identify people whose infections have cleared. In addition, many infected people never get tested because they had no symptoms, had less severe symptoms or couldn’t access a test.

The National Institutes of Health has stated that a

Eli Lilly Applies For Emergency Approval For Covid-19 Antibodies

The US biotech firm Eli Lilly on Wednesday announced it was seeking an emergency use authorization (EUA) for its lab-produced antibody treatments against Covid-19, after early trial results showed they reduced viral load, symptoms and hospitalization rates.

“Our teams have worked tirelessly the last seven months to discover and develop these potential antibody treatments,” said Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientific officer.

“Lilly is diligently working with regulators around the world to make these treatments available,” he added.

The company said in a statement that its “combination therapy” of two antibodies working together was shown to be effective in a placebo-controlled study of 268 patients with mild to moderate Covid-19.

Their analysis showed the proportion of patients with high viral load at day 7 of their illness was 3.0 percent on the therapy, compared to 20.8 percent on the placebo arm.

Improvement in symptoms was seen as early as three days after dosing.

The rate of Covid-related hospitalization and emergency visits was 0.9 percent for patients treated with combination therapy versus placebo 5.8 percent on placebo, a relative risk reduction of 84.5 percent.

The company is also studying a “monotherapy” of just one of the two antibodies, and said that parallel research showed that this was similarly effective.

The trial is ongoing and Lilly wants to recruit a total of 800 people.

Aa transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient,captured and color-enhanced Aa transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient,captured and color-enhanced Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases / Handout

Lilly said it expects to have 100,000 doses of the monotherapy available this month, and a million by the end of the year. It also expects to have 50,000 doses of the combination therapy by the end of 2020.

The findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Both antibodies work by binding to different parts of spike proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, distorting their structure so the virus can’t invade living cells.

Antibodies are infection-fighting proteins made by the immune system and can also be harvested from recovered patients, but it is not possible to make so-called “convalescent plasma” a mass treatment.

Researchers can also comb through the antibodies produced by recovered patients and select the most effective out of thousands, and then manufacture them at scale.

US President Donald Trump, who has Covid-19, received a dose of synthetic antibodies produced by the firm Regeneron last week.

Regeneron has also reported encouraging results from its early trials, but hasn’t yet applied for emergency approval and so remains an experimental treatment.

The US Food and Drug Administration has previously granted an EUA for the antiviral remdesivir, for convalescent plasma, and for hydroxychloroquine, which was subsequently revoked over safety fears.

In addition, US health authority’s guidelines recommend the use of the steroid dexamethasone to control a damaging inflammatory response seen in later stages of Covid-19.

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