NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A game-changing treatment for COVID-19 was discovered by scientists right here in Nashville. "That’s what we get up in the morning for, like we want to change human health," said Dr. Robert Carnahan, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Dr. Carnahan and ten of his colleagues worked and slept inside the lab on roll-away cots. "Someone has an infection, we basically pull their antibody, what’s called repertoire," he said.
They combed through antibodies that were collected from patients that had already defeated COVID. "Of those thousands, which ones were really the very best at protecting and then we can convert those into antibody drugs," he said.
Those antibodies have now been developed into an injection, produced by drug maker AstraZeneca. It could be revolutionary for patients with weakened immune systems. "These are people who — transplant patients, people who’ve gone through chemotherapy," said Dr. Carnaha.
The vaccine isn't always effective for immunocompromised patients because their bodies struggle to produce antibodies of their own. This treatment does it for them.
While there are already some antibody treatments out on the market that fight COVID infections, the AstraZeneca version can also prevent infection. "So it can actually provide a long-term vaccine substitute, I say that very carefully, for those where a vaccine isn’t working well," said Carnahan.
Soon, doctors will be able to order treatments for patients that qualify, thanks to an Emergency Authorization from the FDA. "This is the first time we’ve ever had a drug make it all the way to some kind of FDA approval," he said.
If you ask Carnahan and all those who spent long days and sleepless nights in this lab, it was well worth it.
"Most scientists go through their whole career and never totally realize this thing that many of us strive for — which is something that is actually released and making an impact on people’s lives, so it’s a dream for all of us,' said Dr. Carnahan.
After clinical trials, the treatment is expected to prevent COVID infections from 6 months up to a year.