Newly discovered antibodies can neutralize virtually all known variants of COVID-19 and may have the potential to prevent future coronavirus outbreaks, according to a new study.
Published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances on Thursday, the study describes how a team of researchers was able to isolate potent neutralizing antibodies from a recovered SARS patient who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 that “exhibited remarkable breadth” against known sarbecoviruses, or respiratory viruses such as SARS and COVID-19.
The international team was led by Duke-NUS Medical School and involved researchers from the National University of Singapore, the University of Melbourne in Australia and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the United States.
By isolating antibodies from the COVID-19-vaccinated SARS survivor, the researchers found that the combination of previous coronavirus infection and vaccination generated an “extremely broad and powerful” antibody response – able to stop almost all related coronaviruses tested.
“This work provides encouraging evidence that pan-coronavirus vaccines are possible if they can ‘train’ the human immune system in the right way,” senior author Wang Linfa, a professor and bat virus expert with Duke-NUS’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Program, said in a press release.
In total, the team obtained six antibodies that could neutralize several coronaviruses, including COVID-19, its variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron, the original SARS virus, along with several other animal coronaviruses transmitted from bats and pangolins.
Co-author Chia Wan Ni, a former postdoctoral fellow in Linfa’s lab who now works with Singapore start-up CoV Biotechnology, said three antibodies stood out as “exceptionally broad and potent” capable of neutralizing all tested SARS- related viruses “at very low concentrations.”
The researchers found that the most potent antibody, named E7, was able to neutralize both SARS and COVID-19, animal sarbecoviruses, as well as new COVID-19 variants, such as Omicron XBB.1.16.
E7 was found to target a region of the coronavirus’ spike protein and blocked the shape-changing process the virus requires to infect cells and cause disease, the study notes.
“The (neutralizing) potency and breadth of the E7 antibody exceeded all other SARS-related coronavirus antibodies we have encountered,” Chia said.
“It maintained activity against even the newest Omicron subvariants, while most other antibodies lose effectiveness.”
The study’s findings form the basis for designing vaccines and drugs that work against COVID-19 variants and future coronavirus threats.
“This work shows that induction of broad sarbecovirus (neutralizing) antibodies is possible—it just requires the right immunogenic sequence and method of delivery,” Wang said.
“This gives hope that the design of a universal coronavirus vaccine is achievable.”
The researchers plan to further assess the E7 antibody’s potential against existing and future coronaviruses.
“This collaborative effort led by … Wang and his team expands our ability to protect against coronavirus threats that currently threaten human health, as well as new viruses that may emerge in the future,” said Patrick Tan, senior vice dean of research and professor at Duke-NUS Medical School.
“This underscores the critical role basic science research plays in advancing knowledge with the goal of discovering new approaches to transform medicine and improve lives.”