They are backing a team of scientists who are trying to extract coronavirus antibodies from the blood of a recovered patient in what would be an extraordinary medical breakthrough. The doctors would then inject genetic instructions to create antibodies directly into a sufferer to fight the virus, giving immediate but only short-term protection.
Everybody is really relying on one person’s immune response
Vaccination would have a longer-lasting effect but usually takes more than a fortnight to prepare the immune system to fight the virus.
Amy Jenkins, an infectious diseases expert from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), told the Financial Times she had funded four groups to try to identify antibodies in blood from a single US patient who has already fully recovered from coronavirus.
She said: “It will take at least three weeks to find the antibodies — everybody is really relying on one person’s immune response.”
Dr Jenkins said the attempt was high-risk because it was not clear if recovery relied on large numbers of antibodies.
She said: “They’ve been successful at this technique in the past but they were not under as much pressure as they are right now.”
She said the idea was to inject genetic material that codes for antibodies to be injected straight into a sufferer in the form of DNA or RNA, a nucleic acid that transmits messages from DNA in order to make proteins, rather than manufacturing antibodies in the lab and then injecting them.
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The research groups are based at Duke University, Vanderbilt University, biotech company AbCellera and pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca.
The potential breakthrough comes as the death toll from coronavirus infections in the US rose to 11 with new cases confirmed around New York City and Los Angeles and Seattle health officials discouraging social gatherings.
The first California death from the virus was an elderly person in Placer County, near Sacramento, health officials said.
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The person had underlying health problems and likely had been exposed on a cruise ship voyage between San Francisco and Mexico last month.
It was the first US coronavirus death outside of Washington state, where 10 people have died in a cluster of at least 39 infections that have emerged through community transmission of the virus in two Seattle-area counties.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a statewide emergency in response to the coronavirus, which he said has resulted in 53 cases across America’s most populous state.
He said: “The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus.”
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