Can one single antibody catch them all? Scientists discover antibodies that recognise all SARS-CoV-2 variants and also other coronaviruses that cause human disease. The finding opens the door to the development of novel countermeasures against present and future coronavirus threats.
Bellinzona, January 27, 2023 – The coronavirus keeps evolving, and in so doing it evades our immune defenses. But does the entire coronavirus evolve, or do some portions remain unchanged? Sieving through over 10 million coronavirus sequences, two PhD students at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, Switzerland, affiliated with the Università della Svizzera italiana) discovered that some portions of the virus spike (the molecule on the virus that is key to infect human cells) were remarkably conserved.
“We call these ‘coldspots’”, says Virginia Crivelli, “most of the virus is rapidly changing, but we discovered 15 regions that do not”. By analysing samples from COVID-19 convalescent individuals, they found that some had antibodies specific for the coldspots. “These antibodies are very rare” says Filippo Bianchini, “but thanks to a new method, we were able to find them”. The antibodies blocked virus infection in laboratory experiments, even to the latest variants of concern, and protected from disease in preclinical models. Will the new antibodies be effective against the next coronavirus(es)? “It is likely that new coronaviruses that infect humans will emerge”, says Davide Robbiani, IRB director and senior author on the study, “our findings indicate that it may be already possible to develop countermeasures that are broadly effective against present and also future coronaviruses.”
The study, published today in Science Immunology, was led by scientists at IRB (Bellinzona, Switzerland), and was possible thanks to collaboration with researchers at Stanford University, Czech Academy of Sciences, Clinica Luganese Moncucco and international partners of the EU-funded project ATAC (Antibody Therapy Against Coronavirus).
The first co-authors of the study published in Science Immunology: Filippo Bianchini and Virginia Crivelli, PhD Students at IRB (Bellinzona, Switzerland) in the Lab of Professor Davide Robbiani. In red, blue and green three of the coldspots on the virus spike that are targeted by the newly discovered antibodies.