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South Korea firm says COVID-19 antiviral drug results positive

Health workers in protective suits test potential coronavirus patients at a drive-through center at Seoul Metropolitan Eunpyeong Hospital on March 4. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
Health workers in protective suits test potential coronavirus patients at a drive-through center at Seoul Metropolitan Eunpyeong Hospital on March 4. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, June 1 (UPI) -- South Korean pharmaceutical firm Celltrion announced positive results from a pre-clinical study of a new antiviral treatment for COVID-19 on Monday, reporting a 100-fold reduction in viral load of the disease in animal testing.

The Incheon-based company said it anticipates starting its first clinical trials on humans in July, according to a news release issued Monday.

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Celltrion, which conducted the study in collaboration with South Korea's Chungbuk National University College of Medicine, said that its antibody treatment showed a rapid reduction of symptoms followed by a remission of the disease in comparison with a placebo group.

"The research team observed improved recovery in terms of clinical symptom scores such as runny nose, cough and body aches, after the first day of treatment," the statement said. "From the fifth day, significant clinical remission was observed."

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Two groups were given high and low dosages of the treatment in the trial and were compared to a placebo control group.

The group treated with a high dosage of the drug saw its viral load reduced by 100-fold, Celltrion said, while both high- and low-dosage groups saw lung inflammation cleared within six days. Recovery time was also shortened with the drug.

The company is building upon its research in antiviral antibody treatments for other coronaviruses, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and influenza, said Kwon Ki-sung, head of research and development at Celltrion, in a statement.

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"Celltrion is leveraging its advanced technologies to lead efforts to develop a novel antiviral antibody treatment containing potent therapeutic antibodies that can neutralize the virus," Kwon said.

He added that the company has the capacity to produce large quantities of the treatment.

"Celltrion hopes to commence first-in-human clinical trials in July and has the capability to roll out mass production of the therapeutic antibody treatment once it is ready," Kwon said.

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Drug companies around the world are racing to find vaccines and treatments for the infectious respiratory disease that has resulted in more than 372,000 deaths around the globe so far, according to a tracker operated by Johns Hopkins University.

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug by U.S. pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, showed effectiveness at reducing recovery time and lowering the fatality rate of COVID-19 patients during a placebo-controlled trial, the results of which were announced in late April.

South Korean health officials said on Friday that they would seek expedited approval from the country's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to import remdesivir as a treatment for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

South Korea reported 35 new COVID-19 cases on Monday as the country looks to contain new cluster infections tied to nightclubs in Seoul and an e-commerce distribution center in nearby Bucheon. Monday's new cases represented a continued decline from the 75 cases reported on Thursday, which marked a nearly two-month high.

Overall COVID-19 cases in South Korea rose Monday to 11,503 while the death toll rose by one to 271.

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Visitors wear face masks as they tour the Whitney Museum of American Art as it reopens on September 3. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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