AstraZeneca starts trial of COVID-19 antibody treatment

British drugmaker AstraZeneca has begun testing an antibody-based cocktail for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, adding to recent signs of progress on possible medical solutions to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The London-listed firm, already among the leading players in the global race to develop a successful vaccine, said the study would evaluate if AZD7442, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), was safe and tolerable in up to 48 healthy participants between the ages of 18 and 55 years.

If the UK-based early-stage trial, which has dosed its participants, shows AZD7442 is safe, AstraZeneca said it would proceed to test it as both a preventative treatment for COVID-19 and a medicine for patients who have it, in larger, mid-to-late-stage studies.

AstraZeneca shares were up about 1% at 87 pounds ($114) in early trading.

Development of mAbs to target the virus, an approach already being tested by Regeneron, ELi Lilly , Roche and Molecular Partners, has been endorsed by leading scientists.

mAbs mimic natural antibodies generated in the body to fight off infection and can be synthesised in the laboratory to treat diseases in patients. Current uses include treatment of some types of cancers.

U.S. infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has called them “almost a sure bet” against COVID-19, and AstraZeneca in June received $23.7 million in funding from U.S. government agencies to advance development of antibody-based treatments for COVID-19.

“This combination of antibodies, coupled to our proprietary half-life extension technology, has the potential to improve both the effectiveness and durability of use in addition to reducing the likelihood of viral resistance,” said Astra’s executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D Mene Pangalos.

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Though vaccines are at the heart of the long-term fight against the pandemic, alternative treatments are also being advanced, and the United States on Sunday authorized use of recovered COVID-19 patients’ plasma to treat those who are ill.

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that President Donald Trump’s administration was considering a fast-tracked approval of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine before November’s elections.

India’s new COVID cases top global tally for 18th straight day

India reported on Tuesday the highest number of new coronavirus cases globally for the 18th straight day, remaining well ahead of the United States and Brazil, a Reuters tally based on official reporting showed.

It took India from the end of January, when the country’s first case was reported, until July to reach around 1.6 million cases, a period when the government imposed a strict lockdown.

However, infections have rocketed by another 1.5 million since the start of August, taking the total to around 3.1 million, behind only Brazil and the United States.

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The rate of new cases in India is increasing rapidly, climbing by 60,975 in the latest 24-hour period, according to the federal health ministry.

“If we cross the absolute numbers (in Brazil and the United States), I won’t be surprised, but we also have a larger population,” Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist at the non-profit Public Health Foundation of India, told Reuters.

But deaths have remained comparatively low – at 58,390, or 1.84 % of total cases – lower than the global mortality percentage of 3.4%

India reported its first COVID-19 fatality in mid-March, with the death toll rising to around 35,700 by the end of July. In August so far, around 22,600 deaths have been recorded. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, given the two-week incubation period of the disease.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said it is reassured by the high recovery rate – around 75% of the total 3.1 million cases are no longer infected, according to data from the federal health ministry.

Amid the race to develop a vaccine, the ministry said India was in conversation with Russia regarding Sputnik-V, its experimental COVID-19 vaccine.