To develop treatments for COVID-19 (coronavirus), scientists need recovered patients’ blood samples, which they can analyze to identify and clone the most powerful antibodies against the virus, then manufacture them as drugs. Although hundreds of thousands of people have been infected with the virus, these blood samples are in short supply.
Access to the blood samples is limited by current travel restrictions across international borders, overwhelmed health-care systems, and the time it takes patients to fully recover from the virus, which is estimated at 4 to 8 weeks. Now that the virus is spreading in the U.S., however, the supply should start to increase in the coming weeks.
As they search for samples, San Francisco–based drug maker Vir Biotechnology has been studying samples from patients who recovered from SARS-CoV, which has a 79% similarity to COVID-19, for antibodies that may also be effective against the new coronavirus and future variants. At the time that the latest outbreak began, researchers were studying Gilead’s chemical-based antiviral, remdesivir, to treat other coronaviruses.
Drug researchers told The Wall Street Journal that an antibody treatment could be ready in 6 months, but that is likely a best-case scenario.