The ATAC (Antibody Therapy Against Coronavirus) uses a novel approach to immunotherapy development against COVID-19, by leveraging three different and independent methods to maximize the chances of success and exploit the advantages of each approach.
The first approach consists of taking the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and extract all antibodies that will then be administered as a drug to the affected person. This ‘gamma-globulin immunotherapy’, which will be pursued by the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (partner of the consortium and famous for awarding Nobel prizes) has the advantage of being quick and relatively simple, but requires repeated blood donations.
The second approach is carried out in the consortium by the Technische Universität Braunschweig (Germany). Here, molecular biology is used to generate and select human antibodies in the laboratory, aiming to block the recognition of human cells by the virus. The best Abs identified will eventually be used as therapy for COVID-19 patients.
The third approach speciality of the Institute of Research in Biomedicine (IRB), leading partner and beneficiary of the most important funding to the consortium, consists of searching the blood of cured patients for the best antibodies, which have already been shown to defeat COVID-19, and then producing them (in jargon, recombinant monoclonal antibodies) and administering them as a drug in the future; the advantage being that once a ‘good’ antibody is identified, it can be ‘mass produced’ continuously.
In addition to the IRB that will characterize, select and improve the antibodies generated with the three approaches, we also find the group of researchers directed by Dr. Baldanti at the San Matteo Hospital in Pavia, that will verify the effectiveness of the antibodies. Finally, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (EU-JRC, partner of the consortium) will work closely with the EMA (European Medicines Agency) to ensure that production follows the necessary rules for the safety of the drug from the beginning, thus ensuring that it can reach human use as quickly as possible.
Through the combination of these approaches and the rapid testing, the consortium intends to accelerate drastically the development of effective cures and future vaccines.