Hold your horses! Possible Covid-19 treatment on the way

“There’s something about the horse that is good for the inside of a man.” — Winston Churchill

Throughout history, apart from riding and grooming horses, mankind has used these powerful creatures for medical purposes. Their strong ability to produce antibodies after being exposed to antigens or proteins of pathogens can provide passive immunity to infection, neutralize toxins and poisons. This has allowed scientists to produce serums that would generate a rapid response to life-threatening scorpion and snake bites, make products for botulinum toxin and avian influenza, as well as anti-tetanus serums. So, the big question is: Could horse antibodies treat Covid-19?

For the last 9 months or so, scientists worldwide have been working around the clock to develop an effective vaccine against Covid-19 , which is undoubtedly the best long-term solution against the disease. However, especially in countries where the health system is on its way to collapse, there´s an urgent need to find a quick effective alternative, and immunotherapy seems to be our best ally to treat the disease so far.

Covid-19 Plasma Donation

To date, the use of convalescent plasma (CP) has been the only potential immunotherapy available to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19, as plasma from people who recovered from COVID-19 contains antibodies that neutralize coronavirus. This is pretty much how it works.

Although it’s highly efficient and has certainly saved many lives around the world, CP has also proved to face several challenges:

  • CP´s effectiveness depends a lot on the time it’s administered. Best time to donate plasma is 28 to 40 days after symptom onset and this is something many recovered patients seem to be unaware of.

Personal note: The importance of plasma donation should be given a bigger platform worldwide. Little has been done to carry out campaigns that raise awareness and inform on this matter.

  • Not all recovered patients can be plasma donors. A high level of antibodies is needed in order to transmit antibodies to another patient.
  • The acquisition of CP is limited due to donors’ age, weight, and state of health.

Hyperimmune equine serum

Now, science is steadily on the move, especially in health emergency contexts, and its evolution took CP treatment to the next level with a promising alternative based on the use of equine polyclonal antibodies capable of neutralizing the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

While countries such as Brazil and Costa Rica have also looked into this alternative, Argentine scientists lead the way on this matter, as they have developed the first innovative antibody-based biological product to go into clinical trial in the world. That’s it: A simple, safe, and effective hyperimmune equine serum would save thousands of lives, and could be produced on a large scale.

So how did Argentine scientists develop this serum and what’s its effect on humans?

Phase 1: RDB: The “entry key”

The first step in developing the anti-COVID-19 equine serum involves the production of a recombinant protein of the SARS-Cov-2 virus called RBD. Scientists call this protein the “entry key”, as it plays a crucial role in the entry and attachment of the virus to our cells, and serves as a target to develop antibodies. After Argentine scientists obtained sufficient and high-quality amounts of the RBD protein, they used it to immunize the first horses and acquire their antibodies, which were later processed and purified.

Phase 2: Lab tests

The equine polyclonal antibodies are purified and processed via a biotech process to obtain fragments of antibodies with high purity and a good safety profile in order to develop the anti-Covid-19 hyperimmune serum. Laboratory tests and in vitro results showed that equine antibodies have a high neutralizing power — between 20 to 100 times more powerful than the average of CP.

Phase 3: Clinical trial

Judging by the results, the Administración Nacional de Medicamentos, Alimentos y Tecnología Médica (ANMAT) — Argentina’s equivalent to the United States’ Food & Drug Administration, approved the research protocol for clinical studies of this anti-Covid-19 hyperimmune serum, and by late July 2020, Argentina was the first country in the world to start clinical trials to test the efficacy of the product in 242 adult COVID-19 patients with a moderate to severe health condition in more than 20 hospitals and social work clinics in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires and La Plata.

Phase 4: Large-scale production

Serum vials with neutralizing anti-COVID 19 antibodies. Photo: Immunova.

If the clinical results are positive, the serum developed by Inmunova, a biotechnology company specialized in the research, design and development of innovative treatments for rare diseases, could be manufactured on large scale and become the first Argentine drug to face the pandemic. Scientists claim that if this serum is used with moderate to severe patients in the first 7 to 10 days after the onset of symptoms, the virus could be neutralized at that stage and this would prevent them from reaching ICU.

The effectiveness of the equine serum produced by Argentine scientists to treat Covid-19 is claimed to be known in October. So hold your horses and control your anxiety! We may be just weeks away from knowing whether this serum could give us some truce before the vaccine comes out or not.

The development of the anti-COVID-19 equine serum is the result of a collaborative work of Argentine scientists headed by Inmunova and the Argentine Biological Institute (BIOL), with the collaboration of the National Administration of Laboratories and Health Institutes “Dr. Carlos G. Malbrán ”(ANLIS), Mabxience, CONICET, the National University of San Martín (UNSAM), the“ Dr. José M. Vanella ”Institute of Virology of the National University of Córdoba and Grupo Insud. And it has the support of the National Agency for the Promotion of Research, Technological Development and Innovation.

Passionate content writer and ongoing learner.