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China tests new drug that could halt pandemic 'without vaccine'

A new drug that could "cure" the coronavirus is being tested by scientists at China's Peking University.
A new drug that could "cure" the coronavirus is being tested by scientists at China's Peking University. AFP
3 min

Chinese scientists have been developing a drug they believes has the power to stop the Covid-19 pandemic in its tracks – even without a vaccine.

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Researchers at Peking University are testing a drug which could both shorten the recovery time for infected patients, and has the potential to offer short-term immunity from the coronavirus.

Sunney Xie, director of the university's Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, told AFP that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage.

“When we injected neutralising antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” Xie said, adding that his team’s expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. 

“When we realised that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralising antibody we were thrilled."

Neutralising antibodies are produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells. Xie's team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients.

Published in the scientific journal Cell, the study suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential "cure" for Covid-19.

The virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year before it spread across the world, infecting 4.8 million people and killing more than 315,000.

While the World Health Organisation has said developing a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months, some countries including China are already carrying out human trials for potential vaccines.

Xie said his laboratory’s drug should be ready for use later this year, with clinical trials likely to be done outside of China where case numbers have dwindled.

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