A newly identified monoclonal antibody may be the key to developing a safe and highly effective treatment for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies were once thought to be the “magic bullet” in treating disease. Now, they might be a powerful weapon against a dangerous pathogen.
Monoclonal antibodies have been around, in one form or another, since the early 20th century. At least the idea of them has been. Over the years, scientists have been working to perfect Paul Ehrlich’s idea of creating compounds which selectively target disease-causing organisms. These compounds would then be capable of pairing with an agent that would selectively deliver a toxin directly to that organism, sparing healthy tissue and killing the organism.
The research expanded over the years to include cancer along with viral and other pathogens. Some monoclonal antibody research has been more fruitful than others, including a treatment for cancer which prevents negative immune regulation and targets cancer cells directly.
Now, this magic is being applied to COVID-19 and its underlying virus. Science types at Harbor BioMed (HBM,) Erasmus Medical Center and Utrecht University have identified a fully human monoclonal antibody which prevents the SARS-CoV-2 virus from infecting cultured cells. This is a big step in the process of creating a fully human antibody to treat or even prevent COVID-19.
If fully human antibodies for COVID-19 can be manufactured and widely distributed, it would improve human resistance to the virus. Since a vaccine may be as much as 24 to 36 months away, if one is ever approved and passes clinical trials, this may be a huge step toward taming this virus. Remember, a vaccine for SARS, which broke out in 2002-2003, wasn’t even put into murine (mouse) trials until 2004, well after the outbreak had passed (and herd immunity had likely already developed naturally.)
The research team published their results in the online journal Nature Communications. To date, the COVID-19 pandemic has created havoc around the world. It has infected well over 3 million people, causing more than 235,000 deaths worldwide. That makes this research both timely and urgent.
“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 Berend-Jan Bosch, Associate Professor, Research leader at Utrecht University, and co-lead author of the Nature Communications study. “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 stated that the antibody binds to a domain that is conserved in both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, which explains its ability to neutralize both viruses. “This cross-neutralizing feature of the antibody is very interesting and suggests it may have potential in mitigation of diseases caused by future-emerging related coronaviruses.”
“This discovery provides a strong foundation for additional research to characterize this antibody and begin development as a potential COVID-19 treatment,” said Frank Grosveld, Ph.D. co-lead author on the study, Academy Professor of Cell Biology, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam and Founding Chief Scientific Officer at Harbour BioMed. “The antibody used in this work is ‘fully human,” allowing development to proceed more rapidly and reducing the potential for immune-related side effects.” Conventional therapeutic antibodies are first developed in other species and then must undergo additional work to ‘humanize’ them. The antibody was generated using Harbour BioMed’s H2L2 transgenic mouse technology.
“This is groundbreaking research,” said Dr. Jingsong Wang, Founder, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of HBM. “Much more work is needed to assess whether this antibody can protect or reduce the severity of disease in humans. 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.”
To date, there hasn’t been a whole lot of good news on the treatment and prevention front, especially the latter. While several medications like remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine are seeing positive results in both clinical and hospital settings, neither will prevent the virus from infecting people on a large scale. Being able to produce and distribute antibodies widely, then, may really be the “game-changer” everyone is seeking.
There’s more work to be done here. Happily, there are plenty of researchers willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle that work.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
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Journal Reference – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16256-y