Close shot of a syringe held carefully between a young doctor's fingertips.

Research Monitor

December 23rd 2020


The German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF) has announced the start of early stage clinical trials for a new candidate SARS-CoV-2 antibody treatment.

A type of Y-shaped protein, antibodies are a molecular tool used by the immune system to identify and destroy foreign pathogens, like bacteria and viruses. Each antibody is crafted to identify and recognise a specific molecule characterising a pathogen. This molecular marker is called an antigen. The antibody is equipped with a pair of molecular structures designed to bind onto that antigen––vigorously attaching the antibody to the pathogen in question. The attached antibody then functions like a target––priming the immune system to attack whatever it is attached to.

In partnership with the University of Marburg, the Cologne University Hospital and the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, scientists from the DZIF identified and derived a new antibody––called BI 767551––from the blood samples of recovered COVID-19 patients. The scientists then used clones of a single primed white blood cell to produce the antibody in numbers large enough to be harvested. This process is somewhat analogous to how anti-venoms are produced.

These so-called monoclonal antibodies can then be administered to a new patient suffering from the same pathogen. The foreign antibodies in effect prime a new immune system to identify and attack the pathogens at full intensity––“bringing it up to speed,” as it were. Unlike vaccines, monoclonal antibodies are not a preventative measure but function as a complementary therapy targeted at the early stage of infection, when giving the immune system a head start can make a big difference.

The clinical trial will assess whether BI 767551 is safe and adequately tolerated in patients, before moving on to test its efficacy. The treatment is administered by inhalation of an aerosolised spray––like an asthma pump––so as best to target COVID-19 infection in the respiratory tract.


A study published in the American National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper Series analyses the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on aggregate productivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the largest shock to the global economy since the Great Depression and the resulting downturn has had asymmetric effects,  affecting some sectors more intensely than others. The pandemic has also reorganised the process of production, both in the short-term––as an immediate response to the pandemic––and in the medium-term, as capital and labour get gradually reallocated across the economy.

To investigate the impact of these changes on aggregate productivity, Nicholas Bloom from Stanford University, Philip Bunn of the Bank of England and collaborators analysed data from the Decision Maker Panel (DMP)––a monthly survey of firms in the United Kingdom––both before and during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The country was treated as broadly representative of the major industrial economies in general.

The results suggest that COVID-19 will end up reducing total factor productivity (TFP)––a measure of the combined productivity of both labour and capital––by an average of 3% between Q2 of 2020 and Q2 of 2021, reaching a peak decline of 5% in Q4 of 2020. This will have been driven primarily by a decline in productivity within firms, a result of the additional costs and frictions necessitated by measures to contain the virus.

The academics, however, also state that these raw numbers likely understate the full impact of COVID-19 on aggregate productivity. The lowest productivity sectors ––generally small and medium sized businesses––have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.

This asymmetric collapse has had the counterintuitive effect of supporting the average productivity of the economy. This is because the less that low-productivity small businesses contribute, the higher the average productivity content of the economy as a whole––even if total output has dropped substantially.

In the medium term, the effects of global pandemic are expected in the United Kingdom to be equivalent to a lost year of productivity growth.


In a paper published in the journal Public Administration Issues, classical game theory is used to investigate how people respond to COVID-19 restrictions.

Through the global COVID-19 pandemic, the measures imposed by governments to contain the spread of the virus have often come into conflict with citizens’ sense of economic efficiency and fairness. These considerations have then factored into people’s choices about whether to follow the restrictions or not. This type of scenario is tailor-made for the application of game theory––the study of strategic interactions between multiple parties.

To investigate people’s motivations in complying or not complying with social distancing rules, Alexey Kalinin, Ludmila Zasimova, Marina Kolositsnya and Natal’ya Khorkina from the Russian National Research University made use of a famous game theory model known as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” to model people’s choices.

This is a strategic scenario in which individuals are always better off by personally defecting from some strategy or action, given the actions of others, but in which the collective as a whole is better off if everyone complies. In this type of scenario, the system generally settles into an equilibrium in which each person acts selfishly––to the detriment of everybody, including themselves.

This classical game theory set-up is a pretty good analogy for the choice people face in deciding whether to follow government restrictions to stop the spread of the virus. The logic is the same. If everyone simply self-isolates the virus could be rapidly contained; however, if everyone else is self-isolating (or social distancing, etc.) any one person would be personally better off disobeying. The result is that too many people disobey and the virus spreads.

The question then is how to change the equilibrium of the system? The authors’ insight is that raising people’s own estimation of the costs of getting ill for the themselves and potentially their loved ones––a cost people generally underestimate––is one effective way of incentivising better behaviour. The authors suggest that this could be done through more vigorous and intense information campaigns by governments and firms.

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