Antibodies that can neutralise virtually all known Covid variants have been discovered by scientists, offering hope of preventing future coronavirus outbreaks.
The antibodies were initially isolated from the blood of a recovered SARS patient who went on to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.
Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, which led the research, said in a statement: ‘This unique combination of prior coronavirus infection and vaccination generated an extremely broad and powerful antibody response capable of stopping nearly all related coronaviruses tested.’
Six antibodies were obtained that could neutralise multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 – Covid-19 – its variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron, the original SARS virus, and multiple other animal coronaviruses transmitted from bats and pangolins.
The most powerful antibody, named E7, functions by targeting a particular weakness in the virus’s spike protein, which it uses to invade cells. The antibody appeared to ‘lock’ the spike in an inactive conformation and block the shape-shifting process the virus requires to infect cells and cause illness.
‘The neutralising potency and breadth of the E7 antibody exceeded any other SARS-related coronavirus antibodies we’ve come across,’ said first author Dr Chia Wan Ni. ‘It maintained activity against even the newest Omicron subvariants, while most other antibodies lose effectiveness.’
Senior author Professor Wang Linfa, a world-renowned bat virus expert with Duke-NUS’s emerging infectious diseases (EID) programme, added: ‘This work demonstrates that induction of broad sarbecovirus-neutralising antibodies is possible – it just needs the right immunogenic sequence and method of delivery.
‘This provides hope that the design of a universal coronavirus vaccine is achievable.’
The outbreak of Covid-19 almost four years ago led to a global pandemic as a never-before-seen disease swept through the human population.
A number of vaccines were developed in record time, enabling widespread inoculation against the disease, but Covid-19 has continued to mutate and spawn new variants, effectiveness has waned.
The development of targeted vaccines continues, but the latest developments could not only serve as a powerful preventative measure as a universal vaccine – and also a treatment for the virus – but it could help prevent future outbreaks.
‘This collaborative effort led by Professor Wang and his team expands our capability in protecting against coronavirus threats that currently threaten human health, as well as new viruses that may emerge in the future,’ said Professor Patrick Tan, senior vice-dean for research, Duke-NUS Medical School.
‘This underscores the pivotal role basic science research plays in advancing knowledge, with the goal of discovering new approaches to transform medicine and improve lives.’
The study is published in the journal Science Advances.
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