'Particularly potent' antibody found in SARS patients from 17 years ago inhibits COVID-19, study says

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As the war against the coronavirus pandemic wages on, a new study has revealed that a person who recovered from SARS 17 years ago has an antibody that inhibits COVID-19.

The antibody, known as S309, is "particularly potent" at targeting and disabling the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, according to a statement from the University of Washington, which was involved in the research. The antibody is now being fast-tracked for development and testing at Vir Biotechnology.

“Remarkably, we believe S309 likely covers the entire family of related coronaviruses, which suggests that, even as SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, it may be quite challenging for it to become resistant to the neutralizing activity of S309,” said Herbert “Skip” Virgin, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of Vir, in a separate statement.

Coronavirus researcher David Veesler describes how neutralizing antibodies against SARS and COVID-19 viruses function. (Credit: Randy Carnell)

Coronavirus researcher David Veesler describes how neutralizing antibodies against SARS and COVID-19 viruses function. (Credit: Randy Carnell)

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“In addition, S309 exhibits potent effector function in vitro, potentially allowing the antibody to engage and recruit the rest of the immune system to kill off already infected cells. We have seen in animal models of other respiratory infections, such as influenza, that effector function significantly enhances the activity of antibodies that are already potently neutralizing.”

One of the study's co-authors, David Veesler, cautioned that a lot of work needs to be done before S309 could help COVID-19 patients, as the study was conducted in a lab setting.

“We still need to show that this antibody is protective in living systems, which has not yet been done,” Veesler said in the UW statement.

Nonetheless, S309's ability to disable the spike proteins in SARS-CoV-2 could prove valuable either by itself, or as a "multiple antibody cocktail approach."

The researchers discovered that when S309 was combined with other "weaker antibodies" identified in the SARS patient, who has been observed since 2004, the neutralization of COVID-19 was "enhanced."

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"Antibody cocktails including S309 along with other antibodies identified here further enhanced SARS-CoV-2 neutralization and may limit the emergence of neutralization-escape mutants," the authors wrote in the study. "These results pave the way for using S309- and S309-containing antibody cocktails for prophylaxis in individuals at high risk of exposure or as a post-exposure therapy to limit or treat severe disease."

Two clinical drug trials, in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline, of genetically engineered versions of S309 are expected to get underway this summer.

The research has been published in the scientific journal Nature.

Currently, there is no known scientific cure for the disease known as COVID-19, however, a number of drugs are being tested to see if they can treat it.

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As of Tuesday morning, more than 4.82 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 1.51 million of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.

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