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UC Davis conducting clinical trials of experimental drug that Trump took for coronavirus

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 3, 2020

By Cathie Anderson The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Dr. Timothy Albertson said Friday evening that he hopes COVID-19 patients at Sacramento’s University of California, Davis Medical Center will be willing to join a clinical trial of the experimental antibody cocktail that President Donald Trump said he’s taking to combat the disease.

“There are trials where they focus on outpatients, and Dr. Stu Cohen (also with UCD) is involved in one of those trials where patients who have been exposed to family members or workers who have known disease can enroll in that trial,” Albertson said. “My trial with this drug is with patients who are sick enough to be admitted to the hospital but not sick enough to be in the ICU, at least initially.”

UC Davis Health has been running trials of this polyclonal antibody cocktail, produced by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, for about three months. It received funding for the research from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Regeneron treatment contains scores of two monoclonal antibodies, one of which locks onto the spike proteins that jut out of the body of the coronavirus and form that corona seen in the many widely publicized microscopic views of the pathogen. The other monoclonal antibody attacks a different area of the coronavirus.

Think of a monoclonal antibody as a Pac-Man, Albertson said, but in this case, the Pac-Man does not indiscriminately devour everything in its path. Rather, it’s been programmed by researchers to only eat red apples of a certain size, or in the case of one of the antibodies, only spike proteins.

When the antibodies find a spike protein, Albertson said, their little Pac-Man mouths clamp down on it and bind it, ensuring that it cannot lock onto cells in the human body and start reproducing more coronavirus.

“If these antibodies are blocking those spike proteins, then they would be unable to get into the cell, and if they’re lethal to the virus, it will kill the virus. So, that’s the theory,” Albertson said. “There are some animal data and (lab) culture data that show that probably is true. That’s why they’re very excited about their drug and why we are excited to be part of their clinical trial on inpatients.”

In addition to this antibody cocktail, hospitalized patients in the Regeneron trials also will receive the drugs considered to be the standard of care for everyone as the disease progression merits. Those two treatments are the antiviral remdesivir and the steroid Decadron, Albertson said.

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