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DARPA, Operation Warp Speed, and the Covid-19 Ka-ching Ahead

By       (Page 1 of 4 pages)   4 comments, In Series: Covid-19
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DARPA, Operation Warp Speed, and the Covid-19 Ka-ching Ahead

by John Kendall Hawkins

If/When Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca put out a viable Covid-19 solution in October, it won't come as a surprise to DARPA.

The Department of Defense agency that 'gifted' the original Internet (ARPANET) to the world back in the 70s, set up the Pandemic Prevention Program (P3) shortly after Donald J. Trump's presidential inauguration in January 2017. The highly ambitious principle function of P3 is to scramble scientists, pharmacies, and government agencies to combat pandemic outbreaks before they can savage a population. They want to be able to take any virus and come up with "a functionally integrated platform to deliver pandemic prevention treatments in

The process works like this: Grow a virus, find an antibody, evolve antibody. manufacture and deliver a solution. Here is their own explanation in detail and with illustrations. The P3 has been up and running for more than two years already. Working with partners, such as Lilly, AbCellera, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, and Amgen, they've conducted 'war games' against viruses, which are simulations of pandemics with their amped-up responses. Ostensibly, the system would be the solution.

As it turned out, an intergovernmental working group set up by the Department of Health and Human Services was there and ready. Officers of the DHHS's Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) team took the first blood sample obtained from a Washington state patient who recovered from COVID-19 and, on February 25, handed it over to a DARPA partner, the privately held biotech company Abcellera in Vancouver, to immediately "evolve identified antibodies to high potency" in order to "deliver gene-encoded therapeutics." Abcellera partnered with the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to deliver the immune-reactive solution to the public. And on June 1, right as they said they could do, Abcellera and Lilly announced a viable stop-gap solution for Covid-19, pending a vaccine. Ta-da!

LY-CoV555

Describing how it works, Abcellera tells us that "LY-CoV555 is a highly potent, neutralizing IgG1 monoclonal antibody that targets the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Its mechanism of action is designed to block viral attachment and entry into human cells, and to neutralize the virus, potentially preventing and treating COVID-19." In short, LY-CoV555 creates an immune response that wards off Covid-19 as it tries to latch on. However, according to the government, the trial will not end, and outcomes known, until November 5 -- just after the election. Meaning antibody treatments could begin in early November.

I have been corresponding with DARPA and Abcellera over the last few months regarding P3. Here is a condensed and lightly edited version of my more recent Q and A with DARPA:

Q: I'm amazed by a process that can identify candidate antibodies that quickly. Can you explain in layman's terms how that works?

A: The P3 performers used proprietary microfluidic technologies to rapidly screen and select candidate antibodies.

Q: How could P3 be so sure that they'd meet the target of Aug 1, for testing?

A: Where science is concerned, you can never be certain that you will hit a milestone until proven, but based on the data received by that point we were fairly confident that we would meet the deadline.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Australia. His poetry, commentary, and reviews have appeared in publications in Oceania, Europe and the USA, such as Cordite, Morning Star, Hanging (more...)
 

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