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Scientists in China believe new drug in development may stop pandemic

BEIJING : A Chinese laboratory has been developing a drug it believes has the power to bring the coronavirus pandemic to a halt.

A drug being tested by scientists at China's prestigious Peking University would not only shorten the recovery time for those infected, but even offer short-term immunity from the virus, researchers say.

Director of the university's Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics Sunney Xie, told AFP that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage.

The drug uses neutralising antibodies - produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells - which Prof Xie's team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients.

A study on the team's research, in the scientific journal Cell, suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential "cure" for the disease and shortens recovery time.

Prof Xie said his team had been working "day and night" searching for the antibody.

"Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realised that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralising antibody, we were thrilled."

He added that the drug should be ready for use later this year.

"Planning for the clinical trial is underway," said Prof Xie, adding it will be carried out in Australia and other countries since cases have dwindled in China.

"The hope is these neutralised antibodies can become a specialised drug that would stop the pandemic," he said.

China already has five potential vaccines at the human trial stage, a health official said last week.

But the World Health Organisation has warned that developing a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.

China yesterday reported six confirmed cases for Monday, including a new case in Wuhan, compared with seven a day earlier.

In a separate development, Hong Kong yesterday extended a restriction on public gatherings for at least another two weeks in a move that threatens the city's annual vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown.

Every year on June 4 in Hong Kong, tens of thousands join a candlelight vigil in the biggest commemoration of the 1989 crackdown in which Chinese troops opened fire on student-led democracy protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The government will maintain a limit on public group gatherings to eight people expiring end tomorrow for an extra two weeks. - AFP, REUTERS

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