Beyond the vaccines, some novel new treatments for coronavirus seem to be working. We get the latest from Dr. John Dye, Chief of Viral Immunology at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
Sharyl: Aside from the vaccine, what are some promising therapies that are now being used or that you see on the horizon?
Dr. John Dye: So the steroid treatments that are going on in hospitals right now seem to have great effects.
Sharyl: Why is that?
Dye: Basically, you're amping up your immune system to be able to control the virus better. It's basically priming your system so that you're able to control. There is a lot of studies that have been going on with convalescent plasma, where you take product from a person who has survived the infection prior and has nice, high neutralizing antibody titer in their blood, and then provide that as a treatment. That seems to be working very well. There's also multiple monoclonal antibodies and cocktails of antibodies that have been moving forward from AbCellera and Eli Lilly, from AstraZeneca, they're moving these products forward and they are actually in phase one, two and three clinical trials.
Sharyl: How do you get antibodies, that's not a vaccine, is that an injectable, though?
Dye: That's an injectable, right. So you would actually IV, have it hooked up, and you would receive the dose, and then basically you would be providing the antibodies that are generated from a vaccinated individual directly into you. And I think there's always going to be a place for a treatment like that, because you're always going to have 5-10% of the people, even if you have a 95% efficacious rate, that aren't responding to the vaccine and don't develop it, so you still need to have something to offer them if they do get sick.
Sharyl: How long does that last, do we know?
Dye: So most of the monoclonal antibodies that are moving into treatment are from human, so they're human monoclonal antibodies. So they normally last between 21 and 28 days in the bloodstream. You would be protected, that would do its action for 21 to 28 days, but in that time, you would expect, let's say you were sick, you received the treatment. Your own immune system would start to kick in as well, and then you would be able to control it beyond that. It's more getting you over the hump to allow your own immune system time to respond to control that virus.
Sharyl: What are we learning about people's natural ability to fight off this virus?
Dye: We all have, to varying degrees in our immune system, something called innate immunity, and those are the interferons, there's NK cells, there's a lot scientific-y, jargon-y terms that basically are your ability to fight off a infectious agent independent of what that agent is. So there are people who have high interferon gamma, higher interferon alpha, beta levels that are already in their system for whatever reason, that they're able to keep the viral replication down to allow them to be able to control the virus easily.
Sharyl: And there's studies being done to try to figure out what sort of things might exist in a person's body?
Dye: Yeah, I saw a very interesting study where it looked at the genetic level, what proteins in people who are asymptomatic, that they were generating over time. And they narrowed it down to five genes that in a certain subset of people that did not develop. They knew they had COVID, but they didn't develop symptoms, that these were highly regulated genes, they had high production. So they're starting to dissect that problem and understand because then that gives us an idea, well, if you know, gene X, Y, and Z provide protection, can we artificially boost gene X, Y, and Z in everybody? So then it's not really a vaccination, you're just boosting the innate immune system to be able to control the infection in general.
Sharyl: What do we know about how long immunity lasts if you've had coronavirus and become sick with coronavirus, versus the vaccine, we know for a couple months out, may last longer? What about for natural...
Dye: We're still developing that data set. We have to look at reinfection rate, because there are cases where people have been reinfected with the virus, and then what is the severity of that infection, what's the immune status of those individuals?
Sharyl: When I looked at some research couple of months ago, the reinfection was so rare that it was written up as part of study when it occurs, so the consensus was, as of that point in time, that at least for the period of six to nine months or maybe a year, most people seem to have immunity if they've had an infection.
Dye: That's what we hope. Right now, they're the one-offs where you have a person who's reinfected; it's not something that's occurring on a regular basis, which is a very good thing. Which means that your immune system is developing, through that first infection or through a vaccination, the protection it needs to be able to control that virus the next time we see it.
Sharyl (on camera): There are hundreds of coronaviruses. Dr. Dye says he and his team are working to develop what they call pan-coronavirus treatments and therapeutics that would work on multiple types at once, so scientists don’t have to start from scratch if there’s a next time.