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One company's quest for an antibody drug to fight COVID-19

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Eli Lilly
Vir Biotechnology
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Infectious Disease
The Food and Drug Administration
Science Department
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education

Christos Kyratsous
Sumathi Sivapalasingam
David Lye
Kristen Pascal
Pi Day
George Yancopoulos
Van Plew’s
Donald Trump



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New York City
the United Kingdom
the United States

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Positivity     44.00%   
   Negativity   56.00%
The New York Times
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GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology found one in blood frozen for years in a Swiss lab from a survivor of SARS, another coronavirus that caused a deadly outbreak in 2003.Regeneron’s two-antibody drug is unique: One came from a COVID-19 survivor in Singapore and the other from the company’s genetically modified mice.People make hundreds or thousands of types of antibodies after infection but “most of them are not very good” at blocking the coronavirus, said Christos Kyratsous, a microbiologist who helped lead Regeneron’s work. Dr. Sumathi Sivapalasingam, a Regeneron scientist who had worked at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, started seeking blood samples from people who’d been infected early on, long enough ago to have made good antibodies.“We were essentially calling people from all over the globe” — China, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Europe — with no luck, she said.Out of the blue, they got a call from Dr. David Lye of Singapore’s National Center for Infectious Disease. A computer attached to a microscope counts how many cells in each well are infected to see how successfully each antibody blocked the virus.These are the results Kristen Pascal went to the lab to get on Saturday, March 14.She recalled that she had “brought in pizza and pie for Pi Day,” a day scientists celebrate because 3, 1 and 4 are the first three digits of pi, an important number in math.Kyratsous, other managers and company co-founder Dr. George Yancopoulos hovered behind her chair as the computer counted glowing dots.“I’m getting maybe 1- and 2,000 green spots in each well,” then some hit 10 and a few hit two, she said. “You’re trying to mimic a body,” keeping the cells at body temperature, bubbling in air to supply oxygen, removing carbon dioxide and supplying nutrients at the right pace so the cells multiply, he explained.They’re gradually moved into larger and larger bioreactors — “it looks like a really big microbrewery,” Van Plew said — until the cells are so densely packed that they switch from reproducing themselves to producing the antibody.Contamination is a constant risk.“At any given time, I’ve probably got 1,500 people who are touching the process, whether it’s touching the product or running a biorector,” and every car they drive in, shoe they wear or thing they touch is a potential hazard, he said.When the final bioreactor’s job is done, the contents are purified to remove bits of the cells so that all that remains are the antibodies, which are packed into vials.Production took 45 days — “light speed compared to standard process,” which is usually three to five months, he said.Human studies started in early June.