From Iceland — Icelanders' White Blood Cells Flown To Canada For COVID-19 Treatment Research

Icelanders’ White Blood Cells Flown To Canada For COVID-19 Treatment Research

Published June 8, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
Art Bicnick

White blood cells from six Icelanders with high levels of COVID-19 antibodies have been flown to Canada for use in a project developing a treatment for the coronavirus, RÚV reports.

Over the weekend, three Icelanders’ white blood cells were flown to a laboratory in British Columbia owned by biopharmaceutical company Amgen, which owns Iceland’s deCODE Genetics. Three more individuals’ blood were transported to Canada at an earlier date.

Amgen hopes that these Icelanders’ white blood cells may help researchers develop antibodies to use as a treatment for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The six individuals were chosen because high levels of COVID-19 antibodies were found in samples of their blood and the virus had not seriously affected them, deCODE CEO, Kári Stefánsson told RÚV. They donated blood over a two-hour period, then scientists extracted the white blood cells to be transported to Amgen.

Kári celebrated the unprecedented collaborative spirit of the pharmaceutical industry during this pandemic, highlighting company executives’ pledges not to profit from any coronavirus treatment or vaccine. “I think it must be the first time in the modern history of such companies that they have worked together in this way and worked like they are a real part of their community,” he said.

Results From Antibody Screenings

Kári confirmed that antibodies against COVID-19 were found in 0.9% of those tested who had not previously been diagnosed with the coronavirus or been quarantined.

This result means that “about three times more [people] than [the number] that were diagnosed, were infected with the virus and a large percentage of them were not harmed,” Kári explained. There have been 1,807 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iceland to date.

Screenings carried out by deCODE and the public health service also detected antibodies against the coronavirus in 90% of confirmed COVID-19 patients and in 2% of people who were quarantined but not not infected with the virus.

As ever, more information about COVID-19 in Iceland can be found on the government help-page. Read more of our reporting on the pandemic here.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

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