NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There is a possible major breakthrough in the battle against COVID-19.

Researchers in Pittsburgh have developed a drug that completely neutralizes the coronavirus.

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The potential drug is called AB-8, a small piece of the anti-COVID antibodies that have been used to treat COVID patients by blocking or neutralizing the coronavirus. But this very small molecule appears to have major advantages over other drugs, and perhaps even vaccines.

The wide range of antibodies contained in convalescent plasma – plasma from recovered COVID patients – have variable effectiveness in COVID patients. Now researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have found the precise piece of the effective antibody that blocks coronavirus.

The way antibodies work against COVID is by attaching to and blocking the so-called spike protein that the coronavirus uses to attach to specific receptors on human cells. Through painstaking molecular analysis, the UPMC scientists identified a tiny piece of those neutralizing antibodies. Called AB-8, it’s the part that actually performs most of the virus blocking. Its small size, about one-tenth that of full-size antibodies, gives many advantages.

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“It’s small, it’s potent, it’s part of a human antibody and its size means that it can even be given by inhalation,” said Dr. John Mellors of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

AB-8 doesn’t produce a wide range of antibodies as a vaccine does that might cause side effects, and it doesn’t have to be given by IV infusion. It could be given both to treat a COVID infection and to prevent COVID in high risk populations.

While AB-8 has only been tested in animals, most were mice that have the same corona receptors as humans and was shown to be safe.

Human clinical trials, which should be smaller and faster than vaccine trials, are projected to begin in early 2021.

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