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What do we know about monoclonal antibodies as part of a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19? | Covid-19 Expert Database What do we know about monoclonal antibodies as part of a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19? | Covid-19 Expert Database

COVID-19 Expert Database


What do we know about monoclonal antibodies as part of a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19?

Last modified on 11 August 2020

What our experts say

Antibodies are tiny proteins created by the immune system to attach to any foreign invaders in the immune system (antigens) and also tell the immune system to begin defending itself from this threat. Monoclonal antibodies (which means ‘one type of antibody’) are antibodies created in a lab that can act as a replacement for the antibodies the body normally creates. The difference between these lab-made antibodies and those created by the immune system is that the monoclonal types are uniquely designed to target a specific antigen, in this case the virus that causes COVID-19, so it can send it messages, try to destroy it, and even make it easier for the immune system to find the antigen and attack it. Once the antigen is mapped out in the lab and scientists are able to produce monoclonal antibodies to attach to them, the lab then makes a large amount of these antibodies so they can help the immune system in its fight against a threat.

COVID-19 is unique because it is characterized by its spikes, which you can see under a microscope. Monoclonal antibodies created in the lab work by targeting and breaking these spikes on the virus, which are critical for the virus to enter our cells and infect us. There is growing interest in their potential for use in both vaccine development, but also treatment for infection. The hope is that these antibodies can work as both a vaccine to prevent infection, and/or as a therapeutic treatment to help reduce severity of illness in patients with COVID-19. It is likely that after rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness, these antibodies would be produced in labs, manufactured in large quantities, and they would be injected into people to prevent infection from the virus. As of now, no monoclonal antibody treatments have been approved for this use and are still being heavily researched.

This entry was updated with new information on August 11, 2020.

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Context and background

Monoclonal antibodies have been trending in the news during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also previously for cancer drugs and other applications. Monoclonal antibodies are typically produced in a lab through cloning, to act as antibodies which are proteins made by the body to fight infections.

Monoclonal antibodies have the potential to be produced with consistent quality and purity at a large scale. Additionally, monoclonal antibodies have the potential to provide therapeutic benefits to the immune system because they are highly selective in how they bond to specific foreign invaders that cause disease.

Monoclonal antibodies were first developed in the 1970s, and later Georges Köhler and César Milstein received the 1984 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine for developing a key way to produce monoclonal antibodies. Earlier, Paul Ehrlich and Élie Metchnikoff received the 1908 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for work that set the foundation for making compounds to selectively target a disease-causing organism.

This entry was updated with new information on August 11, 2020.


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  1. The history of monoclonal antibody development – Progress, remaining challenges and future innovations (Annals of Medicine and Surgery)
  2. The birth of monoclonal antibodies (Nature Immunology)
  3. Monoclonal antibodies — a proven and rapidly expanding therapeutic modality for human diseases (Protein and Cell)
  4. Monoclonal Antibodies for Prevention and Treatment of COVID-19. (JAMA)
  5. Designer antibodies could battle COVID-19 before vaccines arrive (Science)
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