Scientists Make Major COVID-19 Breakthrough as New Antibody Discovered
Antibody found to block infection by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in cells
Scientists have made a major breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 after discovering an antibody that blocks infection by the deadly coronavirus, according to reports.
The European researchers say they’ve found an antibody that attacks SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus behind the current global pandemic.
The antibody targets the coronavirus's infamous "spike protein," which it uses to insert its genetic material by hooking onto cells.
Tests in mice cells show that antibody, known as 47D11, effectively neutralizes the virus by binding to this protein and preventing it from hooking on.
The significant breakthrough offers hope of a treatment for the China-born disease COVID-19, which has killed over 250,000 people so far.
Researchers say that if the antibody is injected into humans, it could alter the "course of infection" or protect an uninfected person from getting sick after being exposed to someone with the virus.
The European research team identified the antibody from 51 cell lines from mice that had been engineered to carry human genes, according to The Daily Mail.
The antibody targets the novel coronavirus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak, known as SARS-CoV-1.
However, scientists claim that it can also neutralize SARS-CoV-2, which is from the same family of coronaviruses as SARS-CoV-1.
"This research builds on the work our groups have done in the past on antibodies targeting the SARS-CoV that emerged in 2002/2003," said co-lead author Professor Berend-Jan Bosch at Utrecht University.
"Using this collection of SARS-CoV antibodies, we identified an antibody that also neutralizes infection of SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells.
"Such a neutralizing antibody has potential to alter the course of infection in the infected host, support virus clearance or protect an uninfected individual that is exposed to the virus."
Dr. Bosch added that the antibody's ability to neutralize both strains of SARS-CoV suggests that it may have potential in the mitigation of diseases caused by future emerging coronaviruses.
SARS-CoV-2, which is responsible for the illness known as COVID-19, is spread through small respiratory droplets from sneezing or coughing.
The virus hooks onto a locking point on human cells to insert its genetic material, makes multiples copies of itself and spreads throughout the body.
In the lab, researchers injected mouse cells with a variety of "spike proteins" of various coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS.
The team then isolated 51 neutralizing antibodies produced by the mouse cells that target the spike protein – one of which, 47D11, could prevent infection of cells with SARS-CoV-1.
The successful antibody, 47D11, binds to an enzyme called ACE2 – which is also present in SARS-CoV-2 – and acts like the virus’s "doorway" to human cells.
"The researchers in this study have developed an antibody that binds to the spike and blocks virus entry into cells," said Dr Simon Clarke, professor of Cellular Microbiology at University of Reading, who wasn’t involved in the study.
"Antibodies like this can be made in the lab instead of purified from people's blood and could conceivably be used as a treatment for disease, but this has not yet been demonstrated.
"While it's an interesting development, injecting people with antibodies is not without risk and it would need to undergo proper clinical trials."
Although researchers injected mice cells with spike proteins of coronaviruses that cause SARS, MERS, and the common cold, they were not injected with SARS-CoV2, the cause of COVID-19.
The research was also conducted in cells outside the animal – known as "in vitro" – rather than in a live organism – known as "in vivo."
"There are several animal models of COVID-19 infection and without having results from any in vivo studies, it is not possible to conclude that the product will be effective in vivo in humans," said Dr. Penny Ward, Visiting Professor in Pharmaceutical Medicine at Kings College London.
"This potential would be greatly enhanced if antiviral effect was observed in an animal model."
High concentrations of the antibody may also be required to be effective in vivo.
The antibody was generated using US-based biotechnology company Harbour BioMed's H2L2 transgenic mouse technology.
"Much more work is needed to assess whether this antibody can protect or reduce the severity of disease in humans," said Dr. Jingsong Wang, founder and CEO of Harbour BioMed.
"We expect to advance development of the antibody with partners.
"We believe our technology can contribute to addressing this most urgent public health need and we are pursuing several other research avenues."
The discovery has been published online in Nature Communications.