SINGAPORE - Five antibodies which could potentially neutralise the virus that causes Covid-19 have been discovered by scientists at DSO National Laboratories, Singapore's defence research and development organisation.
Known as neutralising antibodies, they prevent the virus from infecting a patient's cells by binding with the part of the virus that is needed to enter the cells.
DSO announced on Wednesday (June 17) that since March, its researchers have screened hundreds of thousands of antibodies produced by cells of the human immune system in blood samples taken from recovered Covid-19 patients.
The samples were provided by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and the Singapore General Hospital.
Dr Conrad Chan, principal research scientist and laboratory director (applied molecular technology) at DSO, said: "Administration of an antibody obtained from a recovered individual transfers that person's protection to the recipient, enabling any patient to better fight the infection and recover faster."
He added that as antibodies remain in the system for close to a month, they can also be used to prevent infection.
The first two neutralising antibodies were discovered on March 19 and 30 using a screening technique that had been developed in collaboration with the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Life Sciences Institute and the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine over the last five years.
The technique, which involves the use of a live virus, is part of DSO's "Antibodies on Demand" strategy to counter novel infectious disease outbreaks. It allows for quick identification of neutralising antibodies and saves more time and manpower compared with conventional methods.
Dr Chan said: "The Ministry of Defence and DSO recognised that a novel pandemic would have a severe impact on Singapore and we wanted to, very early on, look for ways to protect the population... We narrowed in on antibodies from recovered patients as the best strategy to develop a therapeutic that would protect against a novel outbreak of disease."
DSO will also be bringing together a Singapore-based consortium comprising government agencies, research institutes and biomedical companies to quickly advance the development of the antibodies.
Dr Brendon Hanson, principal research scientist and project lead, said: "We are trying to tap all the expertise that has been developed in Singapore over the last few years so we can have a completely in-Singapore capability to bring an antibody from the research phase into the clinical phase, to be able to treat Covid-19 infection (here)."
Human trials for the most promising antibody of the five, known as AOD01, will likely commence in the upcoming months, pending approval from the Health Sciences Authority.
DSO added that the necessary manufacturing capabilities to scale up therapeutic antibody treatment for patients are in place, pending the successful completion of clinical trials.
Dr Hanson said: "When clinical trials are completed and successful, we hope to be able to quickly translate the positive results from the laboratory into a viable effective treatment for Covid-19."
DSO chief executive officer Cheong Chee Hoo said: "While still in its experimental phase, this discovery is an important milestone in Singapore's fight against and managing life with Covid-19 until a vaccine is available.
"With an effective treatment, people will be more assured as they can be treated immediately and can expect to make a faster recovery. This prevents our healthcare system from being overwhelmed, and normalises our daily routine as we continue to live and interact as a community."