Life & Opinion

Where do I bet on the anti-COVID horses?

Teams in Argentina and Costa Rica are starting or about to start clinical trials for equine serum-based COVID-19 treatment. The treatment is similar to convalescent plasma serum: patients are injected with antibodies to stimulate their immune system. Except, in this case, the antibodies are generated by horses instead of humans (not to worry, the horses are injected with a version of the virus that does not put them in harm’s way).

Horses are long-known to be very good at producing serum with antibodies. For example, horses produce the serum used to treat snake bites. This motivated teams in both countries to try to produce equine serum to treat COVID-19.

As communicated here and here, the horses in both countries produced antibodies that have been tested effective in the laboratory. Now the big question is whether it works in humans.

We will find out soon.

Unfortunately, even if it works, both efforts are on a tiny scale. They would need to be scaled up for this solution to be viable at the global level (or even at a national one – unless Costa Ricans and Argentinians magically stop contracting COVID-19).

The process is scalable in the sense that, if it works, then more horses are injected, then more serum is extracted. However, it is a relatively slow process because there is no way to rush the horses to generate antibodies.

In total, it takes some three months for the horses to do their thing and a month or two for the subsequent laboratory process. So, even if trials are successful, it will take months to redo the entire process on a significant scale.

Meanwhile, many will die.

The situation is unsurprising. Most of the global attention went into large-scale solutions like the famous lockdowns or to speed up mass-scale vaccine development. There was little bandwidth left to encourage pockets of ingenuity like these horses’ idea. I am not particularly happy about this, but that’s a topic for another post.

For now, all I want to know is where to send money to bet on the anti-COVID horses so that scaling up happens efficiently if trials are successful?

Cover photo by Fabian Burghardt on Unsplash.

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