Research collaboration between researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has identified and tested an antibody that limits the severity of infections from a variety of coronaviruses, including those that cause COVID-19 as well as the original SARS disease.
The antibody was identified by a team at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) and tested in animal models at UNC-Chapel Hill. Researchers published their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“This antibody has the potential to be therapeutic for the current epidemic,” said co-senior author Barton Haynes, MD, director of DHVI. “It may also be available for future outbreaks if or when other coronaviruses jump from their natural animal hosts to humans.”
Haynes and colleagues at DHVI isolated the antibody by analyzing the blood of a patient who had been infected with the original SARS-CoV-1 virus that caused the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, and from a current COVID 19-patient.
They identified more than 1,700 antibodies that the immune system produces to bind at specific sites on specific viruses to block the pathogen from infecting cells. When viruses mutate, many binding sites are altered or eliminated, leaving antibodies ineffective. But there are often places on the virus that remain unchanged despite mutations. The researchers focused on antibodies that target these sites because of their potential to be highly effective across different genera of a virus.
Of the 1,700 antibodies from the two individuals, Duke researchers found 50 antibodies that had the ability to bind to both SARS-CoV-1 virus and SARS-CoV-2, which cause COVID-19.
Further analysis showed that one of these cross-linking antibodies was particularly potent – capable of binding to a wide range of animal coronaviruses in addition to the two human-infecting pathogens.
“This antibody binds to the coronavirus in a site that is conserved across several mutations and variations,” Haynes said. “As a result, it can neutralize a wide range of coronavirus.”
With the antibody isolated, the DHVI team turned to researchers at UNC who have expertise in animal coronavirus. The UNC team, led by co-senior author Ralph S. Baric, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, tested it on mice to determine if it could effectively block infections or minimize the infections that occurred.
They found that it did both. When given before the animals became infected, the antibody protected mice against the development of SARS, COVID-19 and its variants such as Delta and many animal coronaviruses that have the potential to cause human pandemics.
“The results provide a template for the rational design of universal vaccine strategies that are variant-safe and provide broad protection against known and emerging coronaviruses,” Baric said.
When given after infections, the antibody reduced severe lung symptoms compared to animals not treated with the antibody.
“The therapeutic activity, even after mice became infected, suggests that this could be a treatment deployed in the current pandemic, but also stored to prevent the spread of a future outbreak or epidemic with a SARS-related virus,” “says David Martinez, Ph.D. ., a post-doc researcher in the Department of Epidemiology at UNC’s Gillings School.
“This antibody could be utilized to prevent perhaps SARS-CoV-3 or SARS-CoV-4,” Martinez said.
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