A breakthrough by scientists in the Netherlands could lead to a treatment for COVID-19 with the discovery of a virus-killing antibody. Picture: AFP/National Institutes of Health/NIAD-RML/Handout
A breakthrough by scientists in the Netherlands could lead to a treatment for COVID-19 with the discovery of a virus-killing antibody. Picture: AFP/National Institutes of Health/NIAD-RML/Handout

Antibody that ‘blocks’ virus discovered

Scientists have discovered an antibody which prevents coronavirus from infecting human cells.

Researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, as well as the Erasmus Medical Centre and the company Harbour BioMed (HBM), identified it as a potential method of neutralising COVID-19.

And while the team's discovery was made on human cells grown in the laboratory, they are hopeful it will produce the same results in patients.

The breakthrough offers hope of a treatment or a vaccine for the deadly virus, which has infected more than 3.6 million worldwide and killed over 250,000 people.

Study co-lead author Professor Berend-Jan Bosch said the antibody targets the deadly bug's infamous 'spike protein'.

The virus hooks onto a locking point on human cells to insert its genetic material, make multiples copies of itself and spread throughout the body.

"Such a neutralising 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," Prof Bosch said.

It could lead to a therapy that would be given to somebody immediately after they become infected or exposed.

The antibody binds to an enzyme called ACE2 which has been identified as the receptor COVID-19 latches onto when it attacks the body.

VIRUS NEUTRALISED

In tests, the monoclonal antibody neutralised SARS-CoV-2 - however, further studies are planned to see if the findings translate to the clinic.

Prof Bosch and his colleagues identified it from 51 cell lines from mice that had been engineered to carry human genes.

When they were exposed to different coronaviruses they produced antibodies to the spike protein.

Only one, named 47D11, destroyed both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. It was then turned into a human version.

 

Prof Bosch said: "This cross-neutralising feature of the antibody is very interesting and suggests it may have potential in mitigation of diseases caused by future emerging related coronaviruses."

The study, published in Nature Communications, offers potential for "prevention and treatment of COVID-19," said Prof Bosch.

It builds on almost two decades of work by the same team since the first SARS epidemic of 2002 which killed almost 800 people and infected over 8000.

Prof Bosch said: "Using this collection of SARS-CoV antibodies we identified an antibody that also neutralises infection of SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells."

PREVENTION AND TREATMENT

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread so rapidly it's infected more than 3.6 million and claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Co-lead author Prof Frank Grosveld, of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said: "This discovery provides a strong foundation for additional research to characterise this antibody and begin development as a potential COVID-19 treatment.

"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 'humanise' them.

The therapy is being developed by Massachusetts-based global tech giant Harbour BioMed.

Founder and chair Dr Jingsong Wang said: "This is groundbreaking research.

"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."

Dr James Gill, from Warwick Medical School, said while this is "not a new treatment, it has the potential to allow the development of a new treatment protocol".

He said: "Simply because we have found an antibody which neutralises a virus in a group of cells in a lab petri dish doesn't mean that we can expect the same response in patients, nor expect to see a positive change in a patient's clinical condition.

"But this is certainly a very promising discovery, coming from a robust scientific approach, and should be viewed as a reason for optimism."

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission

Originally published as Antibody that 'blocks' virus discovered



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