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A California-based biotech company said Friday that they believe they have a cure for the coronavirus in the form of an antibody that provides "100 [percent] inhibition" but the road to getting it to market may be an arduous one.
"We want to emphasize there is a cure. There is a solution that works 100 percent," Sorrento Therapeutics founder and CEO Dr. Henry Ji told Fox News exclusively. "If we have the neutralizing antibody in your body, you don't need the social distancing. You can open up a society without fear."
With the number of COVID-19-related deaths expected to hit 100,000 by June 1, a host of medical researchers are scrambling to find antibodies, optimistic that they could provide a remedy or preventative care in less time than it would take to develop a vaccine. However, finding a successful antibody or convalescent plasma treatment for COVID-19 could present challenges.
"The best way to control infectious disease [is] where a vaccine comes in," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Senior Scholar with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security tells Fox News. "So, obviously vaccines are going to be much more valuable than any kind of treatment. You don't need treatment because you don't get infected.
Adalja adds, however, that there are similarities between monoclonal antibodies and vaccines.
"Both are relying on antibodies to protect you," he says. "The vaccine just induces those antibodies. An antibody therapy would be [for] individuals who get sick, receive this antibody treatment and that prevents them from having complications, that hastens their recovery, or prevents death. That's not the same thing as a vaccine."
Sorrento officials recently told Fox News that the antibody STI-1499 could be used to develop a preventative treatment. Dr. Adalja believes that those methods could be better used in other ways.
"Ideally, the Holy Grail is to have a vaccine so we can remove [COVID-19] as a threat," he says.
"Monoclonal antibodies are going to be used in treatment. So that's something that will help with managing the cases that occur. But it's not going to prevent them from occurring."
Through their studies -- which are due to be made public within the next week -- Sorrento screened and tested billions of antibodies they have collected over the past decade. They say this made it possible to identify hundreds of potential antibody candidates that could successfully bind themselves to the so-called "spike proteins" of the coronavirus. They found that a dozen of these antibodies demonstrated the ability to block the spike proteins from attaching to the human enzyme ACE2, which is the receptor a virus normally uses to enter human cells.
Through further testing, Sorrento researchers found that there was one particular antibody that was 100 percent effective in blocking COVID-19 from infecting health cells — STI-1499.
"When the antibody prevents a virus from entering a human cell, the virus cannot survive," Dr. Ji told Fox News. "This [antibody] puts its arms around the virus. It wraps around the virus and moves them out of the body."
Ji also pointed out that an antibody treatment could conceivably be brought to market in a much shorter time than a vaccine -- a matter of months compared to at least a year.
But getting it to market would be contingent on FDA approval, something that Sorrento is still seeking.
When contacted by Fox News, FDA officials declined to comment on any sort of approval for Sorrento's STI-1499 treatment.
Other medical experts say that while news of this treatment is promising, the most effective solution will be a vaccine.
"I think that antibody therapy, the way people are envisioning it at first is for treatment of people who have a disease to try to lower viral load and burden," Dr. David Weiner of the Wistar Institute, one of the lead researchers currently working on a possible vaccine for the coronavirus, tells Fox News. "There are different categories that you go after the sickest patients, you could go after mid-level patients or even go [to] people after diagnosis to sort of prevent the numbers of people who would get very sick. And so I believe you will see all of those strategies.
"I'm very excited to see the idea of this expanding, but those are because of all kinds of production limitations. So, I think it is possible to inject people and have them prevent ... infection. But that's going to be a lot of development and also getting antibodies that last longer."
Dr. Weiner says that while antibodies like STI-1499 could be effective in combating COVID, their half-life is much shorter than the antibodies produced as a result of vaccination.
"What happens with a vaccine is the person's immune system responds and produces its own antibody," he says. "A few shots and you have long term protection, at least for the time being."