I have limited time to blog this week and so I will only write a few words about the latest developments in SARS-CoV-2 research. This week’s NIH Director’s Blog offers hope for COVID-19 treatments using monoclonal antibodies. A team led by Michel Nussenzweig, Paul Bieniasz, and Charles Rice at The Rockefeller University, New York, and Pamela Bjorkman at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, has identified a subset of antibodies produced by “elite responders” that effectively neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus by binding to “three distinct sites on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the coronavirus spike protein.”
When the human body is challenged by a novel virus in the system, a cascade of biochemical reactions occurs which leads to the production of many different antibody particles. The responsive immune system must generate a large number of possible antibodies because all will have some effect on the virus that has set the system in motion, but only some will be highly effective at binding up the virus particle so that it does not infect cells. What Nuzzenzweig and collaborators have done is identify which of the many antibodies generated are the most effective. This has the potential to inform scientists working on vaccines regarding which vaccines may be most effective in fighting the virus and the potentially deadly disease it causes. It also means that these elite antibodies could be reproduced in the lab and used as a form of treatment for those who have been infected and have a severe case of COVID-19.
There is much more to be said about how this research could also be leveraged to create better serological testing that would indicate who has been and who has not been infected with this novel coronavirus. In future blogs we will explore the ramifications further. For now, let’s pause for a moment and consider the hope this research brings as we pray for further developments.