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Singapore to begin first human trial for potential Covid-19 treatment

SINGAPORE — Next week, 23 healthy volunteers here will be involved in a clinical safety trial for an antibody drug that is hoped to be a viable treatment for patients with Covid-19, a disease that has killed more than 400,000 around the globe so far.

The team of researchers at Tychan, the biotech company that developed the antibody.

The team of researchers at Tychan, the biotech company that developed the antibody.

SINGAPORE — Next week, 23 healthy volunteers here will be involved in a clinical safety trial for an antibody drug that is hoped to be a viable treatment for patients with Covid-19, a disease that has killed more than 400,000 around the globe so far.

Infectious diseases expert Ooi Eng Eong, who co-founded Tychan, the biotech company behind the treatment, told the media in a video conference on Wednesday (June 10) that if trials prove successful, the drug could in future also be used to render temporary protection against infection by the coronavirus, as antibody drugs tend to be effective for about two to three weeks a dose.

This being the case, the drug — now known as TY027 — could perhaps be used to protect frontline healthcare workers against any potential exposure of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19, or travellers when they head to countries with high community transmission of the respiratory disease, he said.

Using the drug to treat confirmed Covid-19 cases “could reduce a lot of problems we face right now”, Dr Ooi added, such as the limited number of ventilators available at hospitals. 

Dr Ooi, a professor and deputy director of Duke-NUS Medical School’s emerging infectious diseases programme, said: “One obvious thing is that many of the (Covid-19 patients) stay sick for a very long time, and some of them even get very severe respiratory disease, so much so that you need oxygen ventilators to help them tie through this critical period, without which they would die.

“We hope that this treatment that we have will reduce the number of people who go into such a severe (stage) and, hopefully, the number of people who die from Covid-19 can be kept at a minimum.”

However, Dr Ooi noted that the eventual use of the drug and who it will be administered to will depend on the outcome of the first phase of the clinical safety trial, which will start next week and take about six weeks. The Health Sciences Authority granted approval for the trial on June 8.

This trial, which will be conducted by public healthcare group SingHealth’s investigational medicine unit, will focus on evaluating the safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics of the antibody. Pharmacokinetics refers to the way the body reacts to a drug.

Thereafter, the drug will still have to undergo more tests before it can be used in real-life clinical settings, and this whole process could take months, Dr Ooi said.

Presently, there is no proven antibody-based treatment for Covid-19. There is also no licensed vaccine to prevent an infection.

This is the first time an in-human trial for a Covid-19 treatment has been approved here. 

A team at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) is also in the process of developing a similar antibody, but it is still in its early stages of research.

Tychan said in a statement on Wednesday that it produced this antibody on Feb 25, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Health, the Economic Development Board and other government agencies as part of a whole-of-government collaborative effort. 

The company then identified it as being the most promising among several antibodies that demonstrated 100 per cent neutralisation against live Sars-CoV-2 in the laboratory.

Since then, preclinical safety studies and other regulatory requirements. including a three-week drug stability test, have been completed successfully.

Tychan said that the development of this antibody was fast-tracked, and that it achieved this short turnaround because it had prior experience in the development of therapeutics for mosquito-borne diseases Zika and Yellow fever, which took nine months and seven months respectively, from design to first in-human infusion. 

Such development typically takes 12 to 18 months, it added.

Tychan’s endeavour to build such a rapid response capability against an infectious disease outbreak was first supported by Temasek Foundation Ecosperity and Temasek Life Sciences Lab, the company said.

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Covid-19 coronavirus healthcare workers antibodies human trail Covid-19 treatment

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