Neutralizing SARS antibody also blocks related coronaviruses

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An international team led by researchers at Vir Biotechnology (CA, USA) and the University of Washington (USA) has identified an antibody that inhibits multiple coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2. Published in Nature, the study involved analyzing data obtained from SARS survivors. The antibody identified is already on an accelerated path towards clinical trials.

When SARS-CoV-2 emerged in late 2019, David Veesler (University of Washington) and his colleagues began screening for potential neutralizing antibodies.

However, unlike other COVID-19 antibody studies, their search involved analyzing data from individuals who had been infected with SARS and MERS in 2003 and 2013, respectively. Previous research had revealed that some of the antibodies produced in response to these infections were also effective against other coronaviruses.

“This is what allowed us to move so fast compared to other groups,” commented Veesler.

The researchers identified several monoclonal antibodies that bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. At the top of this list was S309, a particularly potent antibody capable of neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 by engaging with a section of the protein near the attachment site.

Through the use of cryo-electron microscopy X-ray crystallography and binding assays, the researchers observed that the S309 antibody recognizes a binding site that is conserved across multiple coronaviruses, meaning it holds the potential to neutralize any future similar viruses that emerge.

Further, they discovered that combining the S309 antibody with other, weaker antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 enhanced the neutralization against the virus. The team suggests that this antibody cocktail approach might help to limit the coronavirus’ ability to mutate and escape a single-ingredient antibody treatment.

“We still need to show that this antibody is protective in living systems, which has not yet been done,” commented Veesler. The researchers noted that the S309 antibody is already on an accelerated development path toward clinical trials.

These initial results could pave the way for the use of S309, alone or in a mixture, as a preventative measure for high-risk individuals or as a post-exposure therapy.

“Right now there are no approved tools or licensed therapeutics proven to fight against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” noted Veesler. If the antibody is proven effective against SARS-CoV-2 in humans, it could become part of the pandemic armamentarium.

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Sources: Pinto D, Park YJ, Beltramello M et al. Cross-neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 by a human monoclonal SARS-CoV antibody. Nature (2020). doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2349-y; https://newsroom.uw.edu/news/antibody-neutralizes-sars-and-covid-19-coronaviruses; https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2020/05/19/xray-covid19-antibodies/

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