How the AHEAD100 Initiative is working to prevent future pandemics

Dr. James Crowe, Vanderbilt Vaccine Center Director & Ahead100 Initiative Founder, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the role of antibody research in preventing and preparing for future pandemics.

Video Transcript

- The Biden administration recently unveiling a $65 billion plan to combat future pandemics. Now $11 billion of that is for therapeutics, including monoclonal antibody treatments. Our next guest, he's working on a single shot to treat 100 viruses. So we want to bring in Dr. James Crowe. He's director of Vanderbilt Vaccine Center and also founder of the head 100 initiative. And Dr. Crowe, it's great to see you. I guess tell us a little bit about this Research Initiative and exactly how one shot could potentially be used to treat 100 viruses.

JAMES CROWE: All right, well the technology we're using is called monoclonal antibodies and I think people are becoming familiar with these during COVID. The president previously got antibodies when infected, and they're being used to treat people who've been exposed right now early in infection. And there's infusion centers in places you can go to get antibodies for COVID. And so our past strategy for dealing with epidemics or even pandemics has been to try to move really fast and I think in the current pandemic, people making vaccines and antibodies have moved very quickly. But we started thinking, well what's faster than the fastest we can go, and that would be doing it ahead of time.

So we have been proposing for years to make monoclonal antibodies, one for each of the 100 most likely infections that would cause future epidemics and have them ready. Have them stockpiled like a library so if a future epidemic occurred, we could snuff that out by rushing in the antibodies that we already have in our stockpile. But the problem is we haven't done that work. We need to do that proactively, instead of just reacting to things that happen to us.

- Doctor, do we know for a fact that it would work? I thought-- and I'm not a scientist, but I thought antibiotics worked on bacteria, not on viruses.

JAMES CROWE: Right, the molecules that we're talking about are antibodies. So it's a similar word to antibiotics, but antibiotics are typically small molecule drugs that you would take via pill or maybe an IV. But monoclonal antibodies are a technology that are ubiquitous in medicine now, and we we make them by taking the blood cells of a person who has naturally responded to an infection.

And we search, like looking through a needle-- for a needle in a haystack, and we pull out the individual immune cells from someone who has recovered. And that cell is encoding one antibody, which is the body's natural immune defense against their own infection and we can make that antibody as a drug and give it to other people. So antibodies are really a naturally occurring immunity, and we harness that using current technologies.

- And Dr. Crowe, just talk to us about the importance of using these antibodies in order to control the current pandemic, COVID-19. Because we all know the importance of vaccines but when you use a treatment like this, that is just maybe as equally as important at this point just in terms of trying to get control of this pandemic, right?

JAMES CROWE: Right. Well, vaccines have been a miracle during COVID, to put it lightly. It's amazing how fast we got them and how well they work. But not everyone in the country can be vaccinated properly. We have about three million people who would not respond normally, because they are immunocompromised or have cancer and other medical conditions. So monoclonal antibodies are a way to actually capture the immunity of an otherwise healthy person who's recovered and transfer that to people who cannot make their own immune response.

And essentially, they achieve instant immunity. As soon as we put the antibody in the person, they become immune for a period of time that that antibody lasts. So antibodies fill in the gap for those who can't be vaccinated or who have not yet been vaccinated, and they can even be used as an early treatment. So if you've been to an event and you weren't vaccinated and you were exposed and you become infected, we can use the antibodies to treat that early infection.

- Are we looking in simpleton terms at one shot for 100 different possible viruses? If so, how long until that reality comes to us. Well we originally envisioned this idea. We would have one antibody for each of the 100 infections that might cause future epidemics. Now the more we have sort of dug into the details about this, there are about 25 virus families. So viruses tend to be grouped into similarity families. So for instance, there are multiple coronaviruses. So we we had an outbreak of SARS one a number of years ago, and SARS two that we're experiencing now is a similar virus. So we think we could get antibodies that would cover families of viruses and in that case, we might have a single antibody that would cover five, six different potential future epidemics. But we're never going to have one antibody to cover--

- Got it.

JAMES CROWE: --All the infections. That's not realistic. It'd be more family specific.

- Dr. James Crowe, Vanderbilt Vaccine Center director and a head 100 initiative founder. Thanks so much for taking the time to join--

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