Signs of hope: Cell biologists report discovery of first antibody to combat Covid-19

The Asian Age.  | B R Srikanth

Team of 10 researchers say: “In conclusion, this is the first report on a (human) monoclonal antibody that neutralizes SARS CoV-2.

Cell biologist Prof Frank Grosveld, one of the members of the research team.

Bengaluru: In a sign of hope since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, ten biologists working at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have reported the discovery of the first antibody that can aid the detection and prevention of infection by SARS2, the coronavirus.

The team tested this antibody (which is a protein produced by the host body in response to antigens such as viruses) successfully on mice, and announced the breakthrough in their paper, titled ‘A human monoclonal antibody blocking SARS-CoV-2’, posted on BioRxiv, a website where biologists publish about their research projects. 

At the end of a detailed explanation, the biologists state: “In conclusion, this is the first report on a (human) monoclonal antibody that neutralizes SARS CoV-2.”

Interestingly, the antibody was isolated before the pandemic.

The scientists found that it cross-reacts (the biological term for repelling a foreign substance) and thus prevents the virus from being able to infect. This discovery also helps in the detection of the virus.

The Utrect University team had joined a European project titled ZAPI (Zoonoses Anticipation and Preparedness Initiative) with an intention to develop antibodies against the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the Hong Kong coronavirus (OC-43).

However, they retained in their refrigerator untested antibodies from a previous study that did not react with all three mutations, but did so with SARS1. When the current crisis – SARS2 – broke out, the team tested whether the antibodies that reacted with SARS1 also responded to SARS2, and thus discovered the antibody.

The biologists were ahead of other researchers working on coronavirus antibodies thanks to their earlier work on developing antibodies for other viruses. 

The next task on hand for this team is to identify a pharmaceutical company to produce the antibody on a large scale as a cure for COVID-19, develop a diagnostic test kit, and produce a vaccine against the virus. 

The first three joint authors of the paper are Dr Chunyan Wanga, Dr Wentao Lia, and Dr Dubravka Drabekb, while the other senior authors of the paper are Prof Frank Grosveld and Prof Berend-Jan Boscha.