Cloning antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients is showing promise as a potential treatment for the virus that has affected more than 2.8 million people worldwide and killed at least 196,000.

Dr. William A. Haseltine, Chair and President of ACCESS Health International and former Harvard Medical School professor, told uPolitics that an antibody drug could be approved in the U.S. within four months.

The treatment involves taking blood from a recovered person and purifying the genes to both treat and prevent the virus, Haseltine said.

“They’ve definitely shown that they have isolated the antibodies,” he said work done by Chinese researchers that he has studied. “They haven’t proved that it works in people yet, but it’s very likely it will.”

He noted that China would be able to produce large quantities of the drug since they have been creating antibody drugs for treating cancer.

“I’ve just done an investigation to find out that the Chinese have the capacity to make a lot of the drug themselves because they’ve been making monoclonal antibodies,” said Dr. Haseltine. “You know that they now use those for cancer treatment, the so-called checkpoint inhibitors that made a big difference to a lot of kinds of cancer. Well, they’ve built huge capacity to make those and they can use that for this.”

Based on Haseltine’s experience developing similar antibody drugs to treat anthrax and lupus, he believes the drug could be approved by the Federal Drug Administration within four months.

“I’ve developed monoclonal antibody drugs for at least two diseases: one anthrax and one lupus,” he said. “With a huge accelerated effort, I think it’s possible to do it, have a drug approved within four months. That doesn’t mean available to everybody because it takes a while to scale it up. But I think it can go through the approval process — an accelerated approval process — very, very quickly.”

He said developing the drug for anthrax took a total of two years and six weeks and believes researchers can “dramatically compress” that time “under this condition.”

“That was 20 years ago, okay,” Haseltine said. “I think under these conditions you can do it even faster. And with the kind of resources that are putting against that, you can do it much faster. So that’s why I give it a relatively short time for approval.”

He believes the odds of the antibody treatment being successful is “very, very high,” as it has worked in other strains of coronaviruses before.

“The chance that this will work is very, very high given what we know about these viruses,” he said. “We know that these kinds of antibodies stop SARS and stop MERS in animals. Exactly these kinds of antibodies.”

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