Just outside the medieval walled city of Siena, the Tuscan hill town known for its famed Palio horse race, a different kind of race is happening at Toscana Life Sciences Foundation. This one is on a microscopic scale, as senior scientist Claudia Sala and her team research a treatment for COVID-19, which is projected to cause nearly 2.7 million global deaths by year’s end.
Sala studies monoclonal antibodies, or mAbs, tiny proteins the human body produces to fight off infections from bacteria and viruses. By finding and cloning the right mAbs, she and other scientists are hoping to create a powerful therapy that could help treat COVID-19 and even protect frontline workers. With help from HP inkjet printing technology and other partners, researchers could find those antibodies in record time.
“In normal conditions, the production of monoclonals would take at least one year,” says Sala. She’s hoping to get these out in just six short months and to start clinical trials this December. Here’s a look at Claudia Sala’s typical day inside the lab.
8:00 A.M. / The search kicks off
Sala lives just outside Siena, once a center of political and cultural power that rivaled Florence in the 13th century. Its population was devastated by the Black Death and the city never recovered its former glory, something the scientist reflects on every time she glimpses the town’s ornate but never-finished Duomo. Her short commute takes her to Siena’s suburbs, where Toscana Life Sciences is home to nine research projects — including the Monoclonal Antibody Discovery (MAD) Lab, led by Sala — all focused on making biomedical advances.
Sala first tackles a mountain of emails each morning. Before COVID-19, she and her team were searching for mAbs that could fight off antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But as the pandemic swept through Northern Italy in late February, Sala and the lab’s principal investigator, Rino Rappuoli, decided to temporarily abandon their bacteria research and devote the lab’s energies and resources to finding a treatment for COVID-19.