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Antibody drugs are no cure but seem promising for COVID-19

In this undated image from video provided by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, vials are inspected at the company's facilities in New York state, for efforts on an experimental coronavirus antibody drug. Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help the immune system eliminate it. (Regeneron via AP)
In this undated image from video provided by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, vials are inspected at the company's facilities in New York state, for efforts on an experimental coronavirus antibody drug. Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help the immune system eliminate it. (Regeneron via AP) (Regeneron)

WASHINGTON – They’re not cures and it’s not likely that everyone will be able to get them as President Donald Trump has suggested. But experimental antibody drugs like the one Trump was given are among the most promising therapies being tested for treating and preventing coronavirus infections.

Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are asking the U.S. government to allow emergency use of their antibody drugs, which aim to help the immune system clear the virus. The medicines are still in testing; their safety and effectiveness are not yet known.

Trump is among fewer than 10 people who were able to access the Regeneron one under “compassionate use” rules, without enrolling in a study.

Q: How do they work?

A: Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help it be eliminated. Vaccines mimic an infection to spur antibody production. But it can take several weeks after a vaccine or natural infection for the most effective antibodies to form. The experimental drugs are concentrated versions of specific antibodies that worked best against the coronavirus in lab and animal tests. In theory, they start helping right away. The one-time treatment is given through an IV — it's not like a pill that people can take at home.

Q: How do the drugs differ?

A: Regeneron is using two antibodies to enhance chances its therapy will work even if the virus evades one. The company made a successful Ebola combo antibody treatment this way. Lilly is testing two different antibodies -- one with the Canadian company AbCellera and another with a Chinese company, Junshi Biosciences — individually and in combination. Others testing similar drugs are GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology Inc., which says it has engineered antibodies to last longer than they usually do. Amgen, Adaptive Biotechnologies and the Singapore biotech company Tychan Pte Ltd. also have studies underway.

Q: When might they be available?