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Brisbane breakthrough: Virus-busting doctor leads trials of COVID treatment

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A drug described as potential new immunotherapy for COVID-19 will enter a clinical trial in the USA, led by Brisbane-based former Australian of the Year Professor Ian Frazer – who developed the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine.

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Developed by Brisbane and Seattle-based company, Implicit Bioscience, the drug IC14 will this week be tested in COVID-19 patients in 10-15 hospitals across the United States.

The new drug, for which Frazer is the clinical immunologist and chief scientific officer, will treat immune responses to COVID-19 and its health complications.

Its aim is to reduce recovery time and the severity of symptoms of patients infected with coronavirus.

IC14 is a monoclonal – meaning binding to one substance – antibody that works by dampening damaging levels of immune response to viral infections that result in respiratory distress and serious damage to the patient’s lungs, heart, kidneys, brain and other organs.

The drug will be supplied by Implicit Bioscience, with the hopes of testing its use in treating hospitalised COVID-19 patients with respiratory disease and low blood oxygen in combination with the antiviral drug remdesivir.

Co-founder Frazer, who was named the 2006 Australian of the Year, says a strategy of widespread prevention remains vital to developing viable treatments that help people who experience a life-threatening response to the virus.

“The emergence of new viral strains that may be resistant to current vaccines and drugs highlights the pressing need for interventions to help people during the early stages of COVID-19 respiratory disease,” he said.

“IC14 represents a world-first approach to treating the effects of COVID-19 and we are energised by the opportunity to participate in this important study.

“IC14 targets CD14, a master regulator of the immune response to infection and cellular damage, that is implicated in more than 500 diseases.”

The study will enrol between 300-500 hospitalised COVID-19 patients aged over 18 across the USA, with the team monitoring the participants for 60 days.

The drug is administered via intravenous infusion and volunteer participants will be assigned at random to receive infusions of either IC14 or a placebo for four days.

Neither the participants nor the study team will know who receives the monoclonal antibody or the placebo until the end of the trial, with results expected to be released in early 2022.

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