Breakthrough as live coronavirus grown from patients

By Lauren Davis
Wednesday, 12 February, 2020

Breakthrough as live coronavirus grown from patients

The latest update from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that the Wuhan coronavirus — now to be officially known as COVID-19 — is continuing to spread, with 42,708 confirmed cases and 1017 deaths in China, as well as 393 cases and one death in another 24 countries.

But the good news is that experts from NSW Health Pathology’s state-of-the-art biosecurity P4 laboratory have announced a breakthrough that is expected to help contain COVID-19, having successfully grown the live virus from NSW patients.

As noted by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, “Early and accurate diagnosis of infectious and deadly viruses is critical because undiagnosed patients can unknowingly transmit it to others. But unless clinicians understand the epidemiology of the disease — how it behaves and replicates — they can’t develop reliable diagnostic testing to identify and contain it. A team of elite NSW researchers have achieved this by undertaking genome sequencing of the virus and growing the live virus from real patients as opposed to using synthetic materials.”

The team of 10 scientists and pathologists at NSW Health Pathology’s Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research and clinicians at Westmead Hospital are hopeful their efforts will support the race to develop an effective treatment and vaccine. Indeed, NSW Health Pathology’s Director of Public Health Pathology, Professor Dominic Dwyer, said the team has been working around the clock to rapidly cultivate the virus.

“This cutting-edge work will expand access to faster, reliable diagnostic testing for infected patients not just here in NSW but around the world,” Prof Dwyer said. “Being able to cultivate the novel coronavirus with samples from NSW patients as opposed to trying to mimic it from synthetic specimens is a terrific breakthrough.

“Synthetic virus tools don’t offer the same high degree of diagnostic accuracy needed to help us develop effective antiviral drugs that can be used to treat infected patients. We’re proud to be able to share our discovery with the World Health Organization, and international researchers and clinicians, so together we ultimately help save lives.”

Meanwhile, immuno-pharma company AIM ImmunoTech has filed three provisional patent applications related to its drug candidate Ampligen, which it believes has the potential to be both an early-onset treatment for and prophylaxis against COVID-19. Ampligen is described by its creators as the only known specific Toll-Like Receptor 3 agonist based on synthetic double-stranded RNA with a well-developed intravenous, intraperitoneal and intranasal safety profile while demonstrating strong antiviral activity against a broad spectrum of viruses.

The drug has already been tested in the SARS virus — which is very similar in key RNA sequences to COVID-19 — and has achieved a 100% survival rate at clinically achievable human dosage levels in animal experiments. The company thus expects Ampligen to be similarly effective with the coronavirus.

“If clinical trials follow the results of SARS animal testing, this means helping people who are already sick as well as a prophylaxis for people directly exposed to the virus as it spreads, which is especially important for the medical professionals in hospital-like settings working to contain the global emergency, and those people quarantined in camps and on cruise ships,” said AIM CEO Thomas K Equels. “AIM’s universal coronavirus vaccine concept is primarily meant to inoculate against the Wuhan coronavirus but, through Ampligen’s unique capabilities, could also protect against other forms of coronavirus and future mutations of the Wuhan coronavirus.”

The company’s three provisional patent applications include: Ampligen as a therapy for the Wuhan coronavirus; Ampligen as part of a proposed intranasal universal coronavirus vaccine that combines Ampligen with inactivated Wuhan coronavirus, conveying immunity and cross-protection; and a high-volume manufacturing process for Ampligen.

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