June 30, 2020 / 5:41 PM / 11 days ago

Scottish firm to trial T cells as possible COVID-19 treatment

LONDON (Reuters) - A Scottish biotechnology firm said on Tuesday it would start clinical trials on a possible T cell treatment for COVID-19, aimed at reducing the need for intensive care among hospitalised patients.

T cells are white blood cells that form a key part of the immune system, along with antibodies, and scientists are hopeful they could play a role in tackling the novel coronavirus pandemic.

TC BioPharm (TCB) said it would conduct the trial at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, using gamma-delta T cells in a technique it has previously used on cancer patients.

“Harnessing the immune system to effectively and safely kill virus-infected cells is an extremely attractive strategy,” said Nik Hirani of the University of Edinburgh, the chief investigator for the trial.

The organisers of the trial said that data showed severely affected COVID-19 patients might have a deficiency of T cells.

TCB will manufacture banks of T cells, which can be donated by healthy volunteers, that it is then hoped can be used to treat patients as they develop severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Scottish Government Trade Minister Ivan McKee said in a statement that the devolved administration would support TC Biopharm and others in the attempt to develop treatments for COVID-19.

There is a global need to find safe and effective treatments for the disease, which has killed hundreds of thousands and severely hit most major economies in the six months since it was first discovered.

Steroid drug dexamethasone has been shown in a UK trial to reduce mortality in patients who need ventilation or oxygen, but not in those who are not yet severely ill, while Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir is thought to be more effective in treating people earlier in the course of the disease.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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