There may be another valuable shield in the fight against COVID-19, and the head of a Vancouver biotech firm says it could buy time as researchers race to develop a vaccine.
Carl Hansen, CEO of AbCellera Biologics Inc., said a drug built with antibodies could be used to protect vulnerable populations until a vaccine is more widely available.
The antibodies would give patients all the molecular material they need to fight the disease instead of depending on their bodies to develop their own as with a vaccine, giving them faster protection, he said.
“A prophylactic antibody could well be more effective than a vaccine,” he said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $175 million federal funding for AbCellera to support its work in discovering those antibodies using a high-tech platform.
The funding also supports the company’s plans to build technology and manufacturing infrastructure for antibody therapies against future pandemic threats.
In partnership with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, AbCellera is among a handful of companies on track for clinical trials this summer.
“There are many groups trying to rapidly develop vaccines for COVID-19 and vaccines are a very important part of the global response,” Hansen said.
“What we’re doing is different. What we’re doing is searching through an immune response that was generated from an actual infection and recovery in a patient and then finding that one antibody out of the literally millions that is best suited to stop the virus and that can be manufactured,” he said.
In 2012, Hansen said AbCellera recognized it could combine technologies from artificial intelligence, genomics, microfluidics and immunology to quickly search through natural immune systems to find antibodies that fight infection.
Two years ago, AbCellera began working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the United States as part of a program to “radically accelerate” pandemic response, Hansen said. The company was working on simulations using its antibody-identifying technology when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“We quickly pivoted our efforts,” Hansen said.
Using blood samples from one of the first recovered COVID-19 patients in the United States on Feb. 25, AbCellera began screening millions of cells.
It narrowed down 500 unique human antibodies against the virus to a set of 24 that showed high promise of being therapeutic, he said.
“More recently we have further refined that set to a single antibody that is now being manufactured with the objective of having a first in-human trial start in July,” Hansen said.
What typically takes up to five years has been accelerated to less than four months, he said.
Vaccines and antibody-based prevention drugs work differently. With a vaccine, you inject a patient with a weakened virus or part of a virus to stimulate the immune system’s natural production of antibodies. With a prophylactic antibody, you insert the antibodies into the patient, Hansen said.
There are benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, prophylactics create more immediate protection because there’s no waiting period for the body to create its own antibodies. It’s also more broadly effective, because not all patients’ immune systems may be up to the task of producing their own antibodies.
On the other hand, a substantial number of antibodies must be administered to the patient in order to protect them.
“What that means is that the ability to manufacture hundreds of millions or even a billion doses of a vaccine is something well within the realm of possibility today. Making that many doses of antibodies is not,” he said.
That would mean giving the antibody to select groups of people at risk, such as health workers or the elderly, Hansen said.
The World Health Organization recommends that pharmacological treatment for COVID-19 should not be used outside of clinical trials.
On April 27, British Columbia’s COVID-19 therapeutics committee issued the same warning.
“There are no proven therapies for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. All agents have the possibility of associated harm, and pharmaceutical supplies province-wide and nationally for many of the possible agents are severely limited,” it said.
For Hansen, research and development during the pandemic has not been business as usual.
“It’s not a race against our competitors nearly as much as it’s a race against the virus,” he said.
“What matters most is we get a therapy out there that works for patients and do so as quickly as possible.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2020.
What's open Ottawa: H&M reopens Rideau Street store | CTV News – CTV News
Malls remain closed in the capital, under provincial orders, but stores with street entrances are allowed to reopen, and that means a popular fashion brand has reopened one of its stores in Ottawa.
H&M announced Thursday that its store at the Rideau Centre would reopen via its Rideau Street entrance.
Only 15 people will be allowed in the store at one time. The hours are to 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
There are markers on the floor for physical distancing. Fitting rooms have been closed and there is no garment recycling program for now.
Hand sanitizer is being provided.
While the store accepts cash, they are encouraging card use. There is one line for cash users and one line for card users at the registers.
Employees will be wearing masks, and will be behind barriers at the register. The store will be cleaned more often.
H&M will still accept returns, but says it will hold all returned items for at least 24 hours before putting them back on the sales floor.
B.C. health officials say quick steps taken to help protect care homes – Prince George Citizen
VICTORIA — The deaths of two more COVID-19 patients at long-term care homes in B.C. were mourned by provincial health officials Thursday, but they said lives may have been saved by the province’s quick response to the pandemic.
Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said measures to fight COVID-19 possibly contributed to holding the number of deaths to less than 100 at long-term care homes while other provinces recorded thousands of fatalities.
“We don’t know the specific impact of the measures, but we know the large measures that have been taken have had positive effect,” Dix said at a news conference.
He said B.C. ensured workers were able to be employed at a single care home, personal protective equipment was made available to workers, special health teams were brought in at the first signs of COVID-19 and visits were restricted at the homes.
“I think that B.C., though, can be proud of its long-term care workers,” said Dix. “We’ve adopted from the beginning a team B.C. approach to how we deal with this issue. I am, of course, saddened that we’ve lost 93 people, residents who live in long-term care.”
B.C. reported nine new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the provincial total to 2,558 people diagnosed with the virus. The total number of COVID-19 deaths stood at 164 people and 2,153 people have recovered from the disease.
Henry said efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes is difficult but the province has been applying the many lessons it learned in an early outbreak at North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre.
She said it was difficult to estimate how effective B.C.’s prevention measures were at the homes.
“We can only by analogy look at what happens in other places,” Henry said.
Thousands of residents at long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario have died of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, specialized health teams have been sent to fight COVID-19 outbreaks at two Metro Vancouver long-term care homes.
The Fraser Health Authority appointed a pandemic response director on Thursday at Langley Lodge, where more than 20 people have died from the virus in recent weeks.
It also sent extra staff to Nicola Lodge in Port Coquitlam after one resident tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19, said Dr. Martin Lavoie, Fraser Health’s chief medical health officer. The resident was placed in isolation at the lodge, he said.
“Over the past several weeks we’ve been supporting and offering guidance to Langley Lodge in different ways,” Lavoie said at a news conference.
“Today, we’re talking further action and we have appointed our own director of pandemic response to provide oversight of the COVID-19 response at Langley Lodge and also to further support the facility leadership and staff.”
The lodge website says it is a not-for-profit registered charity run by the Langley Care Society.
It says the lodge in Langley provides long-term care for adults who can no longer live safely or independently at home because of their health-care needs. The lodge includes 121 funded spaces and 14 private pay spaces.
An official at the lodge referred questions about the COVID-19 outbreak to Fraser Health.
Lavoie said the COVID-19 outbreak at the lodge has been difficult to control.
“It is our hope that these additional measures will support the site in controlling this complex outbreak,” he said. “We’re taking all the necessary steps to minimize the exposure to and transmission of COVID-19.”
Lavoie said extra nurses and staff are being called in along with infection control specialists who will use a specialized ultraviolet germ sterilization machine.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.
COVID-19 case identified at second Port Coquitlam seniors home – The Record (New Westminster)
A resident at a Port Coquitlam long-term care facility has tested positive for COVID-19, marking the third seniors care home in the Tri-Cities with at least one case of the coronavirus.
Fraser Health identified the case at Nicola Lodge Wednesday, May 27, and the resident has been put into isolation at the facility.
“This facility outbreak is a recent one. We’re still looking into it,” said Fraser Health’s top doctor, Dr. Martin Lavoie.
Fraser Health does not currently know how the virus entered the facility.
Lavoie added that Fraser Health is in the process of investigating whether anyone has been in contact with the infected resident. Meanwhile, Fraser Health SWAT teams have implemented “enhanced control measures.”
The case marks a third flare up of the novel coronavirus in a Tri-City care home and the only active case in such a facility after the Shaughnessy and Dufferin care homes had their outbreaks declared over in recent weeks.
Nicola Lodge also marks the 17th seniors homes run by Sienna Living that has identified at least one case of COVID-19, according to a tally on their website. Most are in Ontario, including the Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, one of five seniors homes singled out in a recent report by the Canadian Armed Forces, which had been sent in to aid staff.
The report, released Tuesday, details “horrific” allegations of insect infestations, aggressive resident feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections, and residents crying for help for hours across the five facilities.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called it “the most heart-wrenching report” he’s ever read in his life, according to a report by the Canadian Press.
At Sienna Living’s Altamont Care Community, the report detailed several allegations of neglect, including residents not receiving three-meals a day, bed sores worn through ligament and tissue to the bone and dangerous errors in administering medication.
The military said it brought in its own food to make sure residents were fed.
— with files from the Canadian Press
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