Highly potent human antibodies neutralize COVID-19 in animal tests


As part of the global effort to find countermeasures to prevent and treat COVID-19, a team of researchers led by scientists at Scripps Research Institute (CA, USA) has discovered antibodies in the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients that could be used to treat and prevent the disease. The study has been published in Science.

Using antibodies from recovered patients to combat the virus is a technique that has been used successfully against the Ebola virus and the pneumonia-causing respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV. The antibodies can be mass-produced to prevent the infection leading to severe disease, or to act like a vaccine that provides protection for several weeks, while the antibodies remain circulating in the blood stream.

The research team for this project tested whether antibodies in the blood from 17 recovered patients could bind to the virus and prevent it from infecting cells that presented the receptor used by SARS-CoV-2. Of more than 1000 antibody-producing B cells, the researchers identified several that blocked the virus in cell cultures.

One of these antibodies demonstrated in vivo protection against SARS-CoV-2 in Syrian hamsters. Hamsters that were tested with the antibody were protected against weight loss and lung viral replication after being highly exposed to the virus.

The researchers also found one antibody that neutralized SARS-CoV, the coronavirus responsible for the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak in Asia. “That discovery gives us hope that we will eventually find broadly neutralizing antibodies that provide at least partial protection against all or most SARS coronaviruses, which should be useful if another one jumps to humans,” noted Dennis Burton (Scripps Research), one of the study’s co-senior authors. “The discovery of these very potent antibodies represents an extremely rapid response to a totally new pathogen.”

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Injections of the antibodies could also, in theory, protect those vulnerable to the virus; this could include healthcare workers who have contact with infected patients or elderly people and those who cannot safely receive traditional vaccines.

The work was conducted in less than 7 weeks by over 30 researchers. “It has been a tremendous collaborative effort, and we’re now focused on making large quantities of these promising antibodies for clinical trials,” reported co-lead author Thomas Rogers (Scripps Research).

The antibodies will continue to be tested for safety in animals before being moved to human trials. If successful, the antibodies could be used in clinical settings as early as January.

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Sources: Rogers TF, Zhao F, Huang D et al., Isolation of potent SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies and protection from disease in a small animal model. Science doi:10.1126/science.abc7520 (2020); www.scripps.edu/news-and-events/press-room/2020/20200615-burton-covid19antibody.html



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