Scientists at a California biotech company have found an antibody that completely blocks coronavirus in a discovery they called a 'cure,' Fox News reported.
Sorrento Therapeutics, based in San Diego, claims its STI-1499 antibody stopped coronavirus from entering 100 percent of healthy human cells in petri dish experiments.
It's one of several antibodies planned to be combined for a drug 'cocktail' Sorrento is developing in collaboration with Mt Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
In a press release, Sorrento said it could produce up to 200,000 doses of the antibody a month - a production timeline that would likely make the drug available months sooner than a COVID-19 vaccine is expected.
The company has filed for emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has not yet received the green light.
Stocks for Sorrento soared by nearly 220 percent on the heels of the announcement.
'We want to emphasize there is a cure,' Sorrento's CEO, Dr Henry Ji, told Fox.
'There is a solution that works 100 percent.
'If we have the neutralizing antibody in your body, you don't need the social distancing. You can open up a society without fear.'
However, this is a significant 'if.' Promising though its effects on the virus were in lab tests on human cells, the company can't rightfully say that it has blocked the the infection in the human body.
The antibody has not yet been tested in people, so how it might behave inside the body and its potential side effects are totally unknown.
It comes the same day that the Trump administration's social distancing guidelines to slow the spread are expiring, and as many states begin to reopen despite expert warnings that relaxing restrictions may trigger a devastating second wave of infections.
Sorrento's drug, dubbed STI-1499 is one about a dozen antibodies - immune cells that neutralize pathogens like coronavirus - that the company discovered had some effect on coronavirus.
A cocktail of antibodies could act like a 'protective shield' for human cells, preventing the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 - from entering them.
It blocks the virus from its primary doorway, a receptor on the surface of human cells, the ACE2 receptor.
'This puts its arms around the virus. It wraps around the virus and moves them out of the body,' Dr Ji told Fox of what his company has seen in lab experiments.
'When the antibody prevents a virus from entering a human cell, the virus cannot survive.
'If they cannot get into the cell, they cannot replicate. So it means that if we prevent the virus from getting the cell, the virus eventually dies out. The body clears out that virus.'
Multiple companies and universities around the world have been exploring the use of antibodies to treat coronavirus.
Encouragingly, the antibody discovered by Sorrento belongs to a class called 'neutralizing,' or binding antibodies.
They fully and specifically bind to the part of the virus that fits like a lock in a key with parts of human cells.
According to Dr Derek Lowe, an organic chemist who writes for Science Translational Medicine, these both block the virus and sound the alarm to the rest of the immune system to mount a response, too.
These are preferable to other types of antibodies which don't entirely block the virus's effects, and could accidentally make it easier for it to enter human cells.
Dr Lowe notes that neutralizing antibodies, in general, also have the potential to act like 'temporary vaccines,' preventing coronavirus infection in people who haven't already contracted it.
Trials have already begun using blood plasma from recovered patients - which presumptively contains antibodies - to treat people still suffering the infection.
Sorrento had collected a library of billions of antibodies over the past decade, and started systematically screening them for potential against coronavirus as what began as an outbreak exploded into a pandemic.
Scientists there identified about a dozen antibodies that had some effect on the virus.
As a result, they laid pans to create a cocktail of multiple antibodies, in the hope that, if the virus mutated to become immune to one antibody, others could provide back-up protection.
STI-1499 is the clear front-runner to be the 'first' candidate antibody in the cocktail.
'Our STI-1499 antibody shows exceptional therapeutic potential and could potentially save lives following receipt of necessary regulatory approvals,' said Dr Ji.
As of Friday, more than 1.46 million Americans had coronavirus, and more than 87,000 have died.
'We at Sorrento are working day and night to complete the steps necessary to get this product candidate approved and available to the waiting public.'
In the meantime, Sorrento said that it's reaching out to potential manufacturing partners and looking to the US government for support in the hopes of making 'tens of millions of doses in a short period of time to meet the vast projected demand,' according to its statement.
Production of antibodies can pose challenges. It requires a rather complex process, and has to be closely monitored for contamination and other issues, Dr Lowe wrote.
It did not, however, specify a start date or plan for human clinical trials.
There is no proven cure for coronavirus. Earlier this month, Gilead's antiviral, remdesivir, was given emergency FDA approval after it showed slim but promising benefits for survival and recovery times in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study.
The FDA has not yet approved the use of antibody-rich plasma for treating coronavirus, but is currently investigating it.