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‘Our Covid-19 treatment was ready but red tape stopped us’

A French medical research laboratory developed a treatment for Covid-19 before the second wave of the virus but was not given the go-ahead for testing in time

The laboratory has worked for years on Covid treatments and claims it was slowed down for political reasons. It now hopes it will be on the market by June.

Odile Duvaux, of Nantesbased laboratory Xenothera, said she was disappointed the government prioritised finding a vaccine and trying out existing treatments over supporting new remedies.

“We could have been the first in the world to have an antibody treatment against SARSCov- 2. In March 2020, we were ready: we had prepared a treatment for previous coronavirus outbreaks and our technology had been tested on patients.

“We adapted this treatment for the pandemic and the first batch of XAV-19 was ready to be tested on humans in May.” We interview Ms Duvaux.

Why were you unable to start testing in May?

We were slowed down for political reasons, it is not for me to explain. After we handed in our dossier, we could have finished our trials by November if we had authorisation in June, rather than the end of August.

We lost three months. We could have had it ready for the second wave in the autumn.

Our treatment XAV-19 could have been there to cure people.

I am a bit sad that research favoured vaccination trials on a massive scale, and we find ourselves at the beginning of 2021 with vaccinations which are already in production, but not with a treatment ready.

Vaccinating the whole population, though, has to be important?

I am pro-vaccinations. I have six children and they have all been vaccinated.

We need both vaccination and treatments. Tuberculosis has virtually been wiped out by a vaccination, and we still have a treatment for those who get it.

Vaccinations do not cure people who are already ill and I think the first thing to do is to get ill people better, before developing a treatment for those who are not safe.

What is your treatment?

It uses polyclonal antibodies. The use of antibodies is well known in the fight against viruses but usually they are what we call monoclonal antibodies, which are used against a very, very precise target.

It is as if you had a mountain, and on it was a very sharp rock and you attacked the mountain by targeting that rock. Polyclonal antibodies attack the sharp rock, but in addition will attack other parts of it as well.

They are more efficient at fighting complex viruses and are what our bodies naturally produce to fight off infection.

Our laboratory has animals that produce antibodies, similar to those produced by humans, and which we have been able to use in XAV-19. We have developed a unique, patented technology to produce polyclonal antibodies against coronavirus.

How would it be used as a treatment?

It would be used for people who have come into hospital because they are beginning to develop secondary symptoms and to prevent them getting worse and going into intensive care.

There are different stages in the illness. First, someone is infected. They may be asymptomatic or only slightly ill, and their own defence system is capable of fighting the virus.

Sometimes, though, people enter the second stage and then we need to introduce a treatment to destroy the virus.

The third stage is more complicated. Inflammation occurs because the virus has provoked a reaction in the immune system. This makes the patient feel very ill and it is treated with cortisone and also with antithrombotic drugs because it can produce mini-clots.

Our treatment is for people in the second stage, to prevent them getting to the third stage.

How far are you from getting your remedy on to the market?

We have finished the first phase with tests of two doses on 18 patients, which means we can now move into the second phase, testing 380 people spread through 42 hospitals which have agreed to take part.

We also have European funding and so 700 people will be tested in other European countries. If this is successful, we can then ask for authorisation to put the medicine on the market.

Are you confident it will help reduce effects of coronavirus?

I am confident and we think it would be useful for 200,000 patients a year in Europe.

Polls show that 50% of the public say they will not take the new vaccination. Have people lost trust in pharmaceutical companies?

There is more money involved in producing vaccinations as they are on a much bigger scale. People are wary of that.

I would like labs like ours to be taken more seriously. We are not here to make money, but to cure people. The ethics of making medicines needs to change so that people are not so wary of pharmaceutical firms.

Related stories

France debates new bill on vaccination ‘health passports’

Special hospital network in France to monitor vaccine safety

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