UVA Researchers Need COVID-19 Trial Volunteers, Expect a Cure in 2021

By Brandon Carwile

October 28, 2020

Treatment won’t cure COVID-19, researchers say, but it could reduce the symptoms.

CHARLOTTESVILLE- Will we see a COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the year? Researchers at the University of Virginia say no, but they are making progress. The team is currently studying a new antibody cocktail that is having success in stopping the virus from spreading. 

President Donald Trump took this same cocktail when he contracted the virus earlier this month. Trump announced he tested positive on October 1. He entered Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that same day, where he received the cocktail. Eleven days later, doctors cleared Trump of the virus after he tested negative on consecutive days. 

Dr. William Petri is leading the study. Petri serves as the vice chair for research in UVA’s Department of Medicine. Based on the team’s studies so far, Petri said the cocktail is completely safe and effective.

“There’s already been a clinical study that shows that people who received these antibodies have a week less of symptoms,” said Petri. 

Antibodies are used to treat a variety of different things, including rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. 

“We know that antibodies as a class of studies are very safe,” Petri stated.

The cocktail, referred to as REGN-COV2, is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies. Typically a host body generates antibodies. This is different, however. The UVA research team make them artificially.

“That makes them even safer because there is no risk of some adventitial agent or some infectious thing in human plasma,” he said. 

Even though there are a lot of unknowns about the treatment, Petri is supremely confident the antibodies are the cure.

“What’s so exciting about this is that it’s going to be the first-ever drug to prevent COVID-19,” Petri said.

Volunteers needed for UVA study

Currently, UVA has 14 subjects participating in their study, but they are looking for more. Participants must be living with someone who has tested positive for the virus within the last four days. You must be at least 12 years of age, free of symptoms, and continue living with the infected individual after receiving the first shot. Subjects will receive $250 during each visit.  Potentially, someone could earn more than $3,000 from participating in the study, per Petri. 

Right now, the study has over 800 enrolled participants in the U.S. and three other countries. The goal is to have 2,000 participants by Thanksgiving.

“It’s really exciting even being a small part,” said Petri. 

The way the study works is that participants will receive a dose or treatment or a placebo periodically for the first month. It is set up as a double-blind. Therefore, neither the participants nor the researchers will know who received the antibodies or the placebo. Petri believes this eliminates any subjectivity. 

After that first injection, researchers monitor participants for the next few months to rule out any “adverse events.” When the study is finished, an advisory board will review the results.

If you entered the study now, it probably wouldn’t end until the late spring of 2021. However, Petri is confident that enough participants will have completed the first month of testing by the end of December. So, by the end of the year, there will be enough data to indicate whether the cocktail is working. 

If you believe you qualify for the study, you can call 434-924-9691 for more information.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

But Petri wants to make it clear this cocktail isn’t a vaccine. It could potentially reduce symptoms, but it won’t eradicate the illness. That’s why constant claims of a vaccine expected by Christmas just aren’t realistic. COVID-19 cases have doubled since the summer, and Petri believes things could get worse before they get better. Judging by the recent trend, it makes sense that cases will continue to rise over the next couple of months. 

However, Petri is confident the study will produce a vaccine that can be administered even to those groups of people who are considered lower risk.  Perhaps as soon as the end of next summer. He believes with time, COVID-19’s impact will be reduced to something similar of flu season.

“If the vaccine is as effective as the measles vaccine, which is 90 percent effective, then we should be able to achieve herd immunity and prevent a continued pandemic,” Petri said.

In the meantime, Petri and his team of researchers are searching for more participants for the antibody study.

Brandon Carwile is a freelance reporter with Dogwood. You can reach him at [email protected].

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