How-to China: New antibody drug to boost COVID fight
Updated : 2021-12-24
A 3D graphic representation of the novel coronavirus. [Provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Q: How will the new therapy help the fight against COVID-19?
Zhang: The antibody therapy is mainly used to treat patients with mild or moderate symptoms and those at a high risk of developing severe symptoms, including patients with severe underlying health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. It can reduce the rate of hospitalization and death by 80 percent.
The antibody drug not only prevents the virus from penetrating cells, but also boosts our immunity because the antibody itself is part of our immune system.
The antibody drug is immediately effective once administered intravenously. It can stay alive in the human body for nine to 12 months. So it has great potential in preventing infection.
It is especially useful for high-risk groups, such as frontline medical workers and people not suitable for vaccination due to weak immune systems, liver and kidney problems and underlying health problems.
A member of the research team is seen at work. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Q: Will we gain more market approvals beyond China to make greater contribution to the global battle against COVID-19?
Zhang: We're not only aiming at serving Chinese people but also people around the world. It is an international cooperation project.
After entering the phase one clinical trial in China, we conducted phase two and phase three clinical trials in areas with high COVID-19 prevalence as the epidemic had been basically brought under control in China.
We participated in a global trial program sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health. And we earned a high score among global competitors.
So we were able to conduct phase two and phase three clinical trials in 111 clinical trial sites in six countries.
Trial data found the therapy could reduce the rate of hospitalization and death of high-risk patients by about 80 percent.
On Dec 8, we were granted emergency approval by China's National Medical Products Administration.
At the same time, we have contacted the US Food and Drug Administration. We expect to gain US' FDA approval in the near future.
Many countries have already contacted us and expressed their wishes to use our therapy.
Zhang Linqi (R), leading scientist in developing China's first approved COVID-19 antibody drug, talks with China Daily reporter Du Juan in Beijing on Dec 20, 2021. [Photo by Yan Maoqiang/chinadaily.com.cn]
Q: When will the new antibody drug hit the market?
We are pushing for the market launch as early as possible. But several procedures are needed.
A treatment guideline must be formulated. The conditions for storage, shipping and production must also be met. This process may take a few days or a few weeks.
It takes about two to three months to finish production after we receive an order. So we are also pushing for a mechanism like pre-purchase or reserve.
The research team led by Zhang Linqi. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Q: Do you regard this as a shining moment in your professional or academic career? How can the COVID-19 breakthrough drug help your AIDS research?
Zhang: In less than two years, we finished a job that would otherwise take at least 10 years.
This is a big test for us. Not only in the sense of technology but also a test of our will, our ability to manage all resources in emergency, and our teamwork. The challenge is unprecedented.
This experience will be a huge boost to our research in AIDS.
There has been great achievement in AIDS research. The cocktail therapy has greatly improved the quality of life for AIDS patients. But we still need to find a cure or vaccine for the disease. It will be a tough job and we are still working on it.
About the interviewee
Zhang Linqi [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Zhang Linqi is a professor and the director of the Comprehensive AIDS Research Center at Tsinghua University's School of Medicine.
He graduated from Beijing Normal University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree and earned a doctoral degree in 1992 from the University of Edinburgh. He joined Tsinghua University in 2007 after working at Rockefeller University for nine years.
Over the past three decades, his primary research interest revolves around the origin and spread of HIV pathogens, with a focus on the course of disease and treatment. He recently expanded his research into emerging and re-emerging human viral pathogens such as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), Ebola and Zika virus, as well as highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAI) and COVID-19.
Reporter: Du Juan
Camera: Ma Chi and Yan Maoqiang
Video editor: Ma Chi
Subtitle: Ma Chi, Zhang Wenfang and Yan Maoqiang
Supervisors: Shan Juan and Wang Jianfen