As a result of the groundbreaking discovery, scientists have identified a set of powerful antibodies that can effectively neutralize almost all known variants of the COVID-19 virus. In addition, these antibodies can also fight other potentially deadly animal coronaviruses that could pose a pandemic threat in the future. This discovery could revolutionize the development of therapeutics to combat both current and future coronaviruses.
The study, led by the Duke-NUS School of Medicine in collaboration with experts from the National University of Singapore, the University of Melbourne (Australia) and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (USA), has opened new avenues for combating the current COVID-19 pandemic and possible future outbreaks.
Disclosing the essence of the study
The researchers focused on isolating antibodies from the blood of a patient who had previously had SARS and received the COVID-19 vaccine. This unique combination of immunity led to the production of highly effective antibodies capable of neutralizing a wide range of coronaviruses.
Professor Wang Linfa, a renowned bat virus expert from the Duke-NUS Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) program and senior author of the study, explained the significance of his work. We sought to address the lack of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies for the treatment and prophylaxis of patients at high risk of COVID-19 infection, as all previously approved monoclonal antibodies have lost efficacy against recently emerged SARS-CoV-2 variants. This work is encouraging evidence that pancoronavirus vaccines are possible if they can ‘train’ the human immune system in the right way.”
The study identified six potent antibodies capable of neutralizing various coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 and its variants (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron), the original SARS virus, and several animal coronaviruses. Among these antibodies, three stand out for their remarkable breadth of coverage and efficacy.
Dr. Chia Wan Nie, first author of the study, a former postdoctoral fellow in Professor Wang’s lab, now working at Singapore-based CoV Biotechnology, emphasized the significance of these antibodies. “The three antibodies stand out for their exceptionally broad spectrum of activity and high efficacy, and are able to neutralize all SARS-related viruses tested at very low concentrations,” Dr. Chia said. “The neutralizing ability and breadth of activity of the antibody against E7 virus is superior to all other antibodies against SARS-associated coronaviruses we have encountered. It remains active even against the newest Omicron sub-variants, while most other antibodies lose efficacy.”
The role of neutralizing antibodies
The strongest antibody, called E7, demonstrated a unique binding mode that effectively neutralizes the spike protein used by the coronavirus to invade cells. By binding to two parts of the spike protein, E7 deactivates it and prevents the virus from changing its shape, a crucial step in cell infection and disease onset.
Significance of the results obtained
This groundbreaking discovery paves the way for the development of pancoronavirus vaccines that can train the human immune system to fight a wide range of coronaviruses. This offers hope for better treatment and prevention of patients at high risk of COVID-19 disease and possible future pandemics caused by coronaviruses.
To quote Prof. Wang again, “This work provides encouraging evidence that pancoronavirus vaccines are feasible if they can ‘train’ the human immune system in the right way.” These results could change the way we approach combating COVID-19 and preparing for future viral threats.