Scientists created a monoclonal antibody that can defeat the new coronavirus in the lab, an early but promising step in efforts to find treatments and curb the pandemic’s spread.
The experimental antibody has neutralised the virus in cell cultures. While that’s early in the drug development process— before animal research and human trials— the antibody may help prevent or treat COVID-19 and related diseases in the future, either alone or in a drug combination, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Communications.
More research is needed to see whether the findings are confirmed in a clinical setting and how precisely the antibody defeats the virus, Berend-Jan Bosch of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues wrote in the paper.
The antibody known as 47D11 targets the spike protein that gives the new coronavirus a crown-like shape and lets it enter human cells. In the Utrecht experiments, it didn’t just defeat the virus responsible for COVID-19, but also a cousin equipped with similar spike proteins, which causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created proteins that resemble naturally-occurring versions the body raises to fight off bacteria and viruses. Highly potent, they target exactly one site on a virus. In this case, the scientists used genetically-modified mice to produce different antibodies to the spike proteins of coronaviruses.
After a subsequent screening process, 47D11 emerged as showing neutralising activity. Researchers then reformatted that antibody to create a fully human version, according to the paper.
“Monoclonal antibodies targeting vulnerable sites on viral surface proteins are increasingly recognised as a promising class of drugs against infectious diseases and have shown therapeutic efficacy for a number of viruses,” Bosch and colleagues wrote.
Monoclonal antibodies already sparked a treatment revolution in cancer, with medicines such as Merck & Co.’s Keytruda and Roche Holding AG’s Herceptin becoming some of the world’s bestsellers. AbbVie Inc.’s blockbuster inflammation treatment Humira is also part of the monoclonal antibody family.
Two such antibody therapies show promise against Ebola. Companies such as Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are also working on possible antibody treatments for the coronavirus.
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