Tokyo (SCCIJ) – Medical scientists at the University Hospital of Lausanne and the Swiss Federal Technology Institute in Lausanne (EPFL) have discovered a highly potent monoclonal antibody against the SARS-COV-2 spike protein. It largely neutralizes all variants of the virus, including the highly contagious delta variant.
Patient study in Lausanne
The newly identified antibody was isolated using lymphocytes from COVID-19 patients enrolled in a study at the University Hospital of Lausanne. It binds to an area that is not subjected to mutations of the spike protein. Through this tight interaction, the antibody blocks the spike protein from binding to cells expressing the receptor the virus uses to enter and infect lung cells.
Thus, the antibody halts the viral replication process, enabling a patient’s immune system to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 from the body. This protective mechanism was proven through in-vivo tests on hamsters; specimens that were administered the antibody were protected against infection even after receiving a highly infectious dose.
In addition to its antiviral properties, the new antibody is designed to have a lasting effect on humans. A typical unaltered antibody protects for up to 3–4 weeks. But this new one can protect patients for 4–6 months.
That makes it an interesting preventive-treatment option for unvaccinated at-risk individuals or for vaccinated individuals who are unable to produce an immune response. Immuno-compromised patients, organ transplant recipients, and those suffering from certain kinds of cancer could be protected against SARS-CoV-2 by receiving antibody injections two or three times a year.
CHUV and EPFL now plan to build on these promising results in association with a start-up company that will perform clinical development and production of the antibody-containing drug, through cooperation and intellectual property agreements. Clinical trials of the drug should begin in late 2022.
Treatment or prophylaxis
The research team was able to respond to discover this neutralizing antibody so quickly thanks to the multi-year support of the Swiss Vaccine Research Institute. The University Hospital of Lausanne also received support from the Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe (CARE) program – a public-private partnership addressing bottlenecks in the drug discovery and development process in Europe.
The discovery of this new antibody marks a major step forward in the fight against COVID-19. It opens the door to improved treatments for severe forms of the disease and enhanced prophylactic measures, especially for patients with weakened immune systems. However, this antibody is not intended to replace COVID-19 vaccines, which remain the most effective way to prevent infection.