They find powerful antibodies that neutralize variants of the coronavirus

develop six antibodies capable of neutralizing numerous coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic; both the original, as well as its alpha, beta, gamma, delta and omicron variants, and many other coronaviruses that can be transmitted by animals such as bats and pangolins. This is excellent news because it would help prevent and control future outbreaks of infections caused by any of these pathogens.

The research that has obtained these results has been carried out by an international group of scientists led from the Duke-NUS Faculty of Medicine and in which researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have participated in the USA. The team isolated antibodies from a patient’s blood who had recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection and had subsequently been vaccinated against COVID-19.

This unique combination of previous coronavirus infection and vaccination generated a very broad and powerful antibody response and with the ability to stop almost all coronaviruses related to those tested. “We are trying to address the lack of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies for the treatment and prophylaxis of high-risk COVID-19 patients, as all previously approved monoclonal antibodies have lost efficacy against newly emerged SARS-CoV-2 variants,” has explained the professor Wang Linfa, world-renowned bat virus expert with the Duke-NUS Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Program and lead author. “This work provides encouraging evidence that pan-coronavirus vaccines are possible if they can educate the human immune system the right way”.

“The E7 antibody maintained activity even against the newest omicron subvariants, while most other antibodies lose effectiveness”

The study has been published in Science Advances, where the authors describe how these six neutralizing antibodies were obtained. “Three antibodies stood out as exceptionally broad and potent, capable of neutralizing all SARS-related viruses tested at very low concentrations,” said first author Dr. Dra.Chia Wan Nia former postdoctoral fellow in Professor Wang’s lab.

An antibody to design a universal vaccine against coronavirus

The E7 antibody is the most potent antibody that has identified and neutralized SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 sarbecoviruses, animal sarbecoviruses, and newer SARS-CoV-2 variants such as omicron XBB.1.16. They verified that it neutralizes through a specific binding mechanism that joins two parts of the spike protein that the coronavirus uses to invade cells. This appears to lock the protein in an inactive conformation and block the reshaping process needed by the virus to infect cells and cause disease.

“The neutralizing potency and breadth of the E7 antibody surpassed any other SARS-related coronavirus antibody that we have found,” Dr. Chia noted. “It maintained activity even against the newer subvariants of omicron, while most other antibodies lose effectiveness.”

These findings help uncover the weaknesses of coronaviruses and provide a blueprint for designing vaccines and drugs that are effective in preventing and fighting SARS-CoV-2 variants and potential threats from other coronaviruses that may spread in the future.

“This work demonstrates that the induction of broad sarbecovirus neutralizing antibodies is possible; you just need the right immunogenic sequence and delivery method,” says Professor Wang. “This offers hope that design of a universal coronavirus vaccine”.

With its high potential to neutralize future emerging sarbecoviruses, the E7 antibody may become an important asset in helping to prevent the next pandemic caused by sarbecovirus. The aim of the researchers is to analyze in depth the potential of the antibody as a prophylactic and therapeutic agent against existing and future coronaviruses.

“This collaborative effort led by Professor Wang and his team expands our ability to protect against the coronavirus threats that currently threaten human health, as well as new viruses that may emerge in the future,” said Professor Patrick Tan, Senior Vice Dean for Research at Duke-NUS Medical School. “This underscores the critical role that basic scientific research plays in advancing knowledge, with the aim of discovering new approaches to transform medicine and improve lives.”


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