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Drug company seeks Boston blood donors who have recovered from coronavirus

This undated electron microscope image made available by the US National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (in yellow).
This undated electron microscope image made available by the US National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (in yellow).NIAID-RML via AP

In an urgent effort to develop a potential vaccine and medicine for COVID-19, a San Francisco drug company on Friday asked residents of Boston and five other US hot spots in the coronavirus epidemic to donate blood if they have recovered from the disease.

Vir Biotechnology wants blood samples from a total of 100 donors in the hopes of isolating antibodies that could be used to make a vaccine and treatment. Such antibodies are produced by the body’s immune system.

Each donor would likely have made hundreds of thousands of antibodies with different characteristics to fight off the disease, but only a few might be useful to scientists, according to Phillip Pang, chief medical officer for Vir.

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“Each person makes hundreds of thousands of antibodies, but they can differ in how good they are,” Pang said. “Some are worthwhile, some are not.”

Vir announced last month that its researchers had already identified two antibodies that target the spike protein that scientists believe the virus uses to invade human cells, but Vir scientists want to find more.

Unlike an old-fashioned vaccine, which used a weakened or a killed virus to produce an immune response within weeks of an injection, a vaccine containing antibodies could be effective within hours, according to Vir. At a higher dosage, the substance might be useful as a drug, said Pang.

Once Vir researchers identify useful antibodies, they would collaborate with other firms to manufacture a vaccine or medicine that would deliver them into patients.

Vir recently signed an agreement with WuXi Biologics, a Chinese contract development and manufacturing organization, to make such antibodies for the coronavirus. Vir has signed a letter of intent to do the same thing with Biogen, the Cambridge biotech that Vir’s chief executive, George Scangos, ran from 2010 to 2016.

In addition to Boston, the company is looking for donors in Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.

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Donors must be between the age of 18 and 70 and have a documented COVID-19 infection. They can participate regardless of whether they had symptoms.

If applicants are deemed eligible, Vir will send a licensed health care worker from a partner, Sanguine BioSciences, to draw blood at the donor’s home. Donors will receive an Amazon gift card.

Donors can apply by e-mailing virus@vir.bio or going to the website virus.vir.bio.


Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman@globe.com.