Fusion Antibodies CEO Paul Kerr.
A County Derry man, who works for a leading antibody development company, has stressed the need for effective testing and research in the fight against Covid-19.
Paul Kerr, CEO of Fusion Antibodies, says the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic has focused minds on finding a solution.
He told the County Derry Post: “Covid-19 has hit us like something out of a sci-fi movie.
“This thing has closed the world down like nothing normal. It’s unbelievable. We don’t want it to happen again – we want to have something in the cupboard so we can fight this.
“People are currently looking to repurpose drugs that are already out there to see if they could work.
“Trump has been famously talking about drugs that have worked with malaria, but that’s a bit of a ‘Hail Mary’ job.”
Fusion Antibodies was formed in 2001 by another Derry man, Professor Jim Johnston, and have worked with many of the world’s top ten pharma companies.
The company, based in Poleglass on the outskirts of west Belfast, began life as a drug discovery company and currently employs around 50 people.
Paul says that although Covid-19 is a mild infection for most who get it, the virus can lead to inflammation which causes Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) or Ventilator-Induced Lung Injury (VILI).
He said: “If they end up in an ICU, one third of people die because of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) or ventilator induced lung injury.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re 10, 30, 60, 75, one third will die. It’s frustrating for doctors because it can create an overload of cytokine in your body as it tries to respond.
“It causes a breakdown and they almost drown because of the fluid in their lungs. It’s caused by being ventilated.”
Since 2018, Fusion Antibodies have been working with Aqualung Therapeutics, a US company who are working to provide a solution for ARDS and VILI.
The work leaves the company well-placed in developing a solution to Covid-19 and Fusion have started work with a client to develop an antibody specifically against the coronavirus.
Paul Kerr says testing will be vital as the search for a solution progresses.
He said: “Testing is a big thing. It turns out there are quite a few dodgy tests knocking about. Spain bought 3 million tests and they don’t work.
“A Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test looks for the DNA signature of the virus. It’s very sensitive and fast, but you need a lab with machines and people qualified to run them.
“Serology tests that are used to test people who have had it. Some people’s bodies may have mounted a defence against it, and they may have Covid-19 antibodies in their system.
“Maybe in the future, before you get to the ventilator stage, a shot of anti-Covid-19 antibody should help your immune system kill the virus and help you get on the mend quicker.”
Although the antibodies will be crucial to the recovery of patients, Paul feels the protection of the healthcare workers is equally as important.
He said: “The doctors at the front line are doing a 12-hour shift in a room full of patients breathing in and out. They’re exposed and they need that protection.
“They’re the heroes now, the doctors and virologists. It just shows how the world has changed; we now realise who the key workers are.”
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