Over 940 million people around the world have been fully vaccinated. But, as the World Health Organization warns, the global pandemic is far from over. The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants that are more contagious and cause more severe, potentially fatal infections point to a genuine threat that dangerous new mutants could start to take over and undermine existing pandemic countermeasures.
A recent study could provide a light at the end of the tunnel. A team of immunologists led by Tyler Starr at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle has identified a potent antibody capable of neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. In addition, the antibody can also protect against a range of coronaviruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2, opening up the possibility of creating "variant-proof" COVID treatments and vaccines in the future.
SARS-CoV-2 acquires mutations that allow it to evade the immune system, escaping detection by antibodies. To solve this problem, the scientists began searching for antibodies that retained their effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2, even those in disguise.
Starr's team analyzed a panel of 12 antibodies that were isolated from patients who had previously recovered from COVID-19 or similar coronavirus infections. They then tested this library of antibodies against a panel of thousands of known mutations that typically arise in a region of the virus called the receptor binding domain.
They found that one antibody, called S2H97, stood head and shoulders above the others in terms of its ability to attach to binding domains in multiple coronaviruses. It also helped shield against infection by a suite of SARS-CoV-2 variants in both cell-based laboratory assays and experiments in hamsters.
With follow-on preclinical testing, S2H97 may prove to be an indispensable weapon in our ongoing battle against SARS-CoV-2. "These data highlight principles underlying variation in escape, breadth, and potency among antibodies targeting the RBD, and identify epitopes and features to prioritize for therapeutic development against the current and potential future pandemics," wrote the authors.