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Vanderbilt Vaccine Center fast-tracks potential treatments for COVID-19

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Posted at 8:19 PM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 21:36:05-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As part of a multi-year federal program, doctors with the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center have partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense in a program responsible for developing antibody treatments.

Using blood samples from COVID-19 survivors, Dr. Robert Carnahan says he and his team are working at an unprecedented rate.

Dr. Carnahan is the Associate Director for the VCC and says before now, much of their time has been spent on R&D for viruses they know plenty about.

“I think we’re working far faster than we’ve ever worked, but we’re all doing it to a virus we know very little about,” said Dr. Carnahan.

Last year, Dr. Carnahan says they developed a Zika treatment in 78 days, which at the time was considered fast. If you go back two or three years, Dr. Carnahan says the same process could take 6-8 months, even years.

That hasn’t stopped doctors from using similar techniques to isolate antibodies and study how they identify COVID-19 cells in the body.

Think of these antibodies like flags. Once they notice a certain virus that doesn’t belong, they bind themselves to the virus and keep it from infecting other cells.

“We’ve looked through them and found hundreds of antibodies that are specific to COVID-19 and we’re now studying to find the best of those,” said Dr. Carnahan.

Sifting through thousands of antibodies at a time can be time consuming, but an expedited timeline means working to have clinical trials as soon as this summer.

May not be a permanent solution like a vaccine, but at the very least antibodies could be available much sooner and help treat patients for months. In contrast, a working vaccine may not be available until at least this fall, if not later.

Not to mention, vaccines only work when you don’t already have the virus.

With the number of cases around the country continuing to rise, doctors say this could be our best option now.