MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — To battle COVID, those on the frontlines are relying on an arsenal of scientific breakthroughs at their disposal from vaccines to monoclonal antibodies.
The one antibody that works against the omicron variant, Sotrovimab, is now harder to find around the country.
“If I could get many, many more doses, I could probably set up more rooms to do infusions,” said Dr. Andrew Carroll, a family medicine specialist in Arizona.
It’s monoclonal antibodies that are now the lynchpin in preparing for the world’s next pandemic at the new Global Pandemic Prevention and Biodefense Center.
“We're at a tipping point in medical history when antibodies have been used mostly for autoimmunity and cancer," said the Center’s Dr. James Crowe, "and because of the lessons learned in COVID, we're now able to use this technology for infectious diseases.”
The Center, which just opened in Montgomery County, Maryland, set a goal of creating a stockpile of monoclonal antibodies for a variety of viruses, like coronaviruses.
“There's about 25 or 26 families of viruses that we know can get into humans and cause problems,” Dr. Crowe said. “And within those families, there's three or four examples of ones that we know might happen.”
That adds up to around 100 viruses in all. The entire effort, involving the public and private sectors, is expected to cost $2.5 billion.
To do all the needed work, the Center is tapping research labs from across the country and the world, like the one Dr. Crowe works in at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
“We already have lead antibody drugs for about 30 or 40 of the 100, so we don't have to start from zero,” Dr. Crowe said. “What we're looking for now is major financial support because each one requires about $25 million to move from where it is now as a prototype to test it in humans and make sure it's safe and ready to go.”
The idea is that if they can create enough monoclonal antibodies for a variety of viruses, those can be used to help slow the spread and treat those affected by a pandemic in its early stages and buy scientists time to develop a vaccine for that specific virus.
“This is really a bridge to vaccines,” Dr. Crowe said. “We're at the point where now it's possible. We have the technology and we're going to do it.”
It is an effort they are undertaking, in the hopes that the world can be ready when the next pandemic emerges.